BY ANNEMARIE PEACOCK
The mention of professional cheerleading elicits visions of shiny and tiny uniforms, perfect hair, and flawless makeup. To spectators, these cheerleaders are living the dream with television appearances, traveling, and big performances. However, beneath the flashy outfits and energetic cheers, the cheerleaders are barely paid.
Cheerleading in the NFL began in the 1960s with the Dallas Cowboys and has since become an extremely lucrative industry, spreading to nearly all teams in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had their own reality show, “Making the Team,” and they bring in over one million dollars for their team annually.
In stark contrast to the incredible wealth amassed by the NFL, the cheerleaders, who bring both money and attention to their teams, are meagerly compensated. NFL cheerleaders are only paid an average of fifty dollars per game. This means, that the most elite cheerleaders in the entire nation only earn one thousand to two thousand dollars a season while cheering for football, the United States’ most profitable sport.
In addition to cheering at games, there are long mandatory practices, charity events, traveling, time for hair and makeup, and photo shoots. Cheerleaders are required to attend and perform all these additional tasks without monetary compensation. When all these extra hours are added, NFL cheerleaders are on average making only five dollars an hour, significantly under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
One thousand to two thousand dollars for an NFL season is far from a livable wage, but officials have countered that cheerleading for the NFL is merely a part time job. However, nine hour game days, extensive practice time, and numerous promotional events seem unevenly matched with the cheerleaders’ measly paychecks.
Mayfield Junior Katherine Hatton has been cheerleading the past two years at Loyola High School. Even at the high school level, cheerleading is time consuming, with late nights from games during the week.
“Cheerleading is not as easy as it looks and it takes commitment, effort, and teamwork,” said Hatton.
Mayfield freshman Isabella Arizmendi, who began cheering at just four years old, is also very passionate about cheerleading and has cheered on a variety of squads throughout the years.
Now a cheerleader at Saint Francis High School, Arizmendi emphasized the special bond between the girls on the squad and the reward of working on stunts and perfecting routines that make the hard work and frequent practice worthwhile.
“We work our butts off practicing routines, jumps, kicks, and stunts over and over. Our cheers, dances, routines, and stunts may look simple and easy, but if they saw all the effort and work we put in it they would change their minds,” said Arizmendi.
The steps to make it onto an elite professional squads are numerous and onerous. To even become a professional cheerleader, there are first grueling, competitive tryouts, and extensive training in etiquette, interviewing, and even history lessons, making auditioning alone an expensive ordeal.
With such a high number of applicants, higher salary and better treatment is to be expected. Instead, each cheerleader is just seen as easily replaceable and constantly reminded of this.
“The low wages are not fair because the cheerleaders do put a lot of time and commitment into their routines. I think cheerleaders should be paid more, but not to the caliber of the athletes,” said Hatton.
With such strict, body, and time requirements as well as intense competition, cheerleading requires impressive dedication, commitment, talent, and intelligence, and professional cheerleaders really should receive a much deserved pay raise.
“Professional cheerleaders should be paid much more for their effort put in each day working on routines, staying in shape, and keeping a good attitude and commitment,” said Arizmendi.
Arizmendi’s sentiments are shared by the Oakland Raiderettes, who recently sued the NFL Raiders for multiple violations of California’s labor laws. Hopefully, their lawsuit will bring much needed reform.
Photograph: Freshman Isabella Arizmendi has been cheerleading since the age of four.