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NFL cheerleaders reveal what teams force them to do in their personal lives

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The NFL has an image problem, and it looks like that image is about to get even worse.

An ever-growing number of women are coming forward to expose the horrors behind teams’ explicit and potentially labor law-violating rules of conduct for their cheerleading squads.

The New York Times revealed some of them in a report Monday.

According to The Times, the Carolina Panthers’ cheerleaders, the TopCats, are required to arrive at the stadium five hours before kickoff. They must remove or cover body piercings and tattoos. Water breaks? Only when the Panthers have the ball, even on those roasting hot and humid North Carolina days in late summer early in the season. And they don’t get to change into their own clothes until not only the game is over but they have left the stadium.

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Cheerleaders also must pay for their own uniforms, which can run into the hundreds of dollars, even as their pay is barely minimum wage. Even McDonald’s supplies uniforms to its workers.

They must sell merchandise, show up at promotional events and follow draconian personal hygiene handbooks that can be so specific in their micromanagement that football teams feel it necessary to instruct women in how to use a tampon.

What’s more, the NFL even goes so far as to regulate the cheerleaders’ personal lives, putting restrictions on who they can date, how they can use social media, what nail polish they’re allowed to use, and what nail polish they can wear.

The latest firestorm in public relations started when Bailey Davis, fired by the New Orleans Saints in January, chose to go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to register a formal complaint.

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But in 2014, Deadspin reported on these codes of conduct in connection with a lawsuit filed against the Oakland Raiders alleging that fines levied against cheerleader pay by the team violated wage and hour laws in California.

According to The Times, the Ravens require their cheerleaders to use a team-mandated hair salon and stylist, making the cheerleaders pay for the services, which cost nearly as much as those women make. When team-mandated expenses and fines are deducted from pay, the amount left over, if it isn’t actually less than zero and therefore a job where the worker pays more than they earn, is far below the minimum wage.

The Saints lawsuit, however, is the one that really has the league reeling from the helmet-to-helmet hit by Davis’ lawyers.

She has been making the rounds on TV this past week, drawing attention to the way the teams treat women, and in today’s #MeToo political climate, it’s proving a public relations nightmare for the league.

The Ravens refused to answer questions from The Times about their policies, while the Bengals, notorious for maintaining tight restrictions on the body weight of their cheerleaders, said only that they have updated their rules and “no longer have precise weight guidelines.”

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Cheerleaders are part-time workers; they receive no fringe benefits, and if they complain, there are far more women who want to be cheerleaders than there are spots available, so the squeaky wheel, rather than getting the grease, just gets the lug nuts yanked and the wheel replaced.

Leslie Levy, a lawyer who represented Jets and Raiders cheerleaders suing their teams, said, “The club’s intention is to completely control the behavior of the women, even when they are not actually at their workplace. It’s an issue of power. You see a disparate treatment between the cheerleaders, and the mascots and anyone else who works for the team. I can’t think of another arena where employers exert this level of control, even when they are not at work.”

The Jets had to pay $325,000 to their cheerleaders; the Raiders’ court judgment against them went for $1.25 million.

The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, disbanded their cheer squad entirely rather than deal with the headaches associated with potential legal trouble, while the Steelers, Bears, Browns and Giants simply don’t employ cheerleaders at all. The Packers use college cheerleaders. The Rams, meanwhile, are adding male cheerleaders next season.

With an ever-expanding laundry list of complaints, we could be witnessing the end of an era in pro football; if more teams see how much damage the Jets and Raiders suffered on their bottom line, they may follow the Bills’ lead and just absolve themselves of the headache.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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