With Super Bowl XLVIII just eight days away, the debate over fair pay for NFL cheerleaders is reaching megaphonic levels.
Following a wage lawsuit filed by an anonymous Oakland Raiders cheerleader this week, thousands of supporters are rallying around the idea that the $9 billion football industry should pony up more cash for the hardworking women who entertain fans through physically demanding stunts, dances and routines.
A petition on Change.org is calling on the 32 teams in the National Football League to pay their cheerleaders a living wage. In just a few days, it attracted more than 61,000 signatures, with some commenters saying the notably low pay for cheerleaders speaks to “blatant sexism” within the sports world.
“With the ridiculous salaries ball players get paid, it is only right they earn a decent wage as well,” one commenter wrote.
“As a former cheerleader, I understand how athletic this process can be,” wrote another. “They are part of the sport and should be compensated as such.”
As was reported on Wednesday, the Oakland Raiders were slapped with a lawsuit from “Lacy T.,” a Raiderette who claims the team violated the California Labor Code by paying her and her fellow cheerleaders only $1,250 for the entire season. She said the work amounts to less than $5 per hour when rehearsals and performances at charity events are factored in. The minimum wage in California is $8 per hour. The full complaint was posted online by Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, the Oakland-based law firm representing Lacy.
The suit is being proposed as a class action, and the Raiders have so far declined to comment on the pending litigation. In a statement, Vinick called the paltry wage “exploitation.” Lacy, meanwhile, said she hopes the lawsuit will spur others in her position to take a similar stand:
“I love being a Raiderette, but someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams. I hope cheerleaders across the NFL will step forward to join me in demanding respect and fair compensation.”
Over the last two decades, cheerleading as a whole has become an increasingly athletic pursuit, and indeed debates over whether it is a sport in its own right are taking place on high school and college campuses across the country. One recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for young girls and rivals football in its high risk for concussions and other injuries.
Last year, Amber Matsumoto of Yahoo Sports posted an infographic placing the average NFL cheerleader pay at $70 to $150 per game.
The issue of fair pay for NFL cheerleaders has bubbled up from time to time over the last few years. Amanda Hess wrote about the “(almost) no pay” for Washington Redskins cheerleaders in 2011, and the issue is discussed on numerous blog posts and message boards. Until now it has failed to capture the attention of the broader public (or even the football-watching public), but at a time when everyone from unpaid interns to fast-food workers are rising up to demand living wages, fair pay for cheerleaders is an issue whose time may have finally arrived. That’s something we can all flip for.