Kathleen Geier wrote an excellent article over at Political Animal this morning, On the Raiders’ Cheerleaders Wage Theft Suit: No Pay for Practices, Unreimbursed Expenses, and $125 per 10-Hour Game. It provides a good overview of Josh Eidelson’s interview with two Raiders cheerleaders about the situation. And it is totally unacceptable.
For those of you who haven’t heard, cheerleaders are barely paid. Now this in itself shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone. I remember this issue coming up decades ago when when the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were all the rage. The take home: cheerleaders are paid only for the games and they are paid really poorly. For the ten hour game day, they are paid $125. By using a bit of algebra and assuming that they ought to be paid overtime for two of those ten hours, we get an an hourly wage of $11.36. Of course, they are only paid for the games; they are not paid for practices and they are not paid for charity events. And they are not reimbursed for their expenses. And they are not paid weekly or monthly; they are paid at the end of the year.
This part of the story is all very clear. It’s a workers’ rights issue. It reminds me of what happened last year at JPMorgan Chase. The company was slapped with the biggest fine in history. And what was the result? It fired 7,500 line workers and gave its CEO Jami Dimon a 74% raise. Football teams are quite profitable and that is saying something given that most people own them for prestige and not profit. Regardless, paying the cheerleaders a living wage during their brief careers would mean nothing to the bottom line of the teams.
I am well aware that people don’t go to football games to see the cheerleaders. But they are very much part of the spectacle that is the NFL. One of the reasons I find football so incredibly boring is that it is a very long game during which very little actual play takes place. It is very much like a war: hours of boredom with brief moments of violence. So part of making the event not seem so tedious is to liven it up with eye candy like the jumbotron and the cheerleaders. And the mascot.
That was the most amazing and upsetting revelation in the interview. On college teams, the mascot is part of the cheerleading squad. But in the NFL, this is not the case. Whereas the entirely female cheerleaders get $125 per game, the mostly male mascots get “between $30,000 and $65,000 a year.” This is the fact that takes the situation beyond simply workers’ rights. A lot of people have argued that the NFL is misogynistic. I don’t think there can be any clearer example than the way the sport teams treat their cheerleaders.
The whole thing reminds me of the rise of unions in Major League Baseball. The players only got a collective bargaining contract in 1968. Before that, the team owners claimed that they just couldn’t afford to pay the players more. And they said the same things that the owners will say about the cheerleaders today, “They don’t have to work for us!” And that’s true. But there is no doubt that the cheerleaders do add as much value to the game as the mascots and they should be paid as such. The owners have gotten a great deal up until now. That shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue to mistreat the only female part of the NFL.