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The NFL Cheerleader Wage Theft War

Football's most famous fans may finally be getting a voice. After years of NFL cheerleaders enduring embarrassingly low pay and overall poor treatment, working conditions seem to be improving. As a recent New York Times article noted, "The cultural dial is turning." So, what exactly is changing, and why?

Football’s most famous fans may finally be getting a voice. After years of NFL cheerleaders enduring embarrassingly low pay and overall poor treatment, working conditions seem to be improving. As a recent New York Times article noted, “The cultural dial is turning.” So, what exactly is changing, and why?


(Photo Credit: Pete Sheffield/Flickr)


Do You Know What You're Worth?

Though cheerleaders are forced to meet high athletic and aesthetic standards and keep jam-packed schedules (42 weeks of work a year, multiple practices a week, regular media and promotional appearances, and attendance at team events), the NFL has historically (and repeatedly) avoided paying minimum wage by citing cheerleaders’ status as independent contractors, which exempts the League from abiding by state labor laws.

Up until September of last year, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, known as Raiderettes, were paid a mere $125 a game, according to a recent pro-cheerleader op-ed in Time. Given that 11 games make up the average season, this adds up to roughly $1,250 a year in annual take-home, and an average hourly rate of less than $5 an hour. 

Cheerleaders for the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders make even less – $100 per game, according to Mother Jones. The Cincinatti Bengal Ben-Gals receive only $90. The New York Jets Flight Crew make slightly more – $150 a game – but the Buffalo Jills have it worst of all. Their primary compensation is a $90 game ticket and a $25 parking pass for home games, according to Mother Jones.

Former Raiderette Lacy Thibodeaux told the Times that Raiders cheerleaders were also not compensated for travel and other work-related experiences.

“Your contract states that you’re not allowed to talk about your money,” said Thibodeaux. “They think it’s a joke, ‘Oh, these little cheerleaders.'”

To put the compensation (or lack thereof) into perspective, cheerleaders make an estimated $8.25 million in game day TV appearances for the NFL, according to Time, and Commissioner Roger Goodell was reportedly compensated $44 million in 2013 alone. 

Along with unfair compensation, additional subpar treatment has included insulting practices such as body fat and menstrual cycle monitoring, according to the Times. To cite one example, the Buffalo Bills Jills claim to being subjected to weekly “jiggle tests” designed to measure their fat.


In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that cheerleaders be considered employees instead of independent contractors, which along with an enforced minimum wage, means breaks and paid sick leave, according to The Los Angeles Times. It will go into effect for the 2016 season.

Earlier this year, New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and State Senator Diane Savino introduced a bill similar to California’s, followed last week by a letter sent by a total of 18 policymakers representing eight states, requesting that NFL legally enforce a minimum wage requirement. 

In reply to the letter, an NFL spokesman told The New York Times, “Teams are advised to follow state and federal employment laws. Under those laws, cheerleaders are not employed by the league.”

Though the NFL’s response wasn’t especially promising, some state legislators are clearly increasingly making moves on the cheerleaders’ behalf, as are the cheerleaders themselves, not only in the form of high-profile media attention but also legal action. 

The latter has resulted in a handful of concrete changes, particularly in the wake of a slew of recent lawsuits filed by cheerleaders from teams including the Oakland Raiders, the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, some of which have resulted in victory for the cheerleaders.

In September 2014, the Raiderettes received a $1.25 million settlement from the Raiders following an eight month-long class action lawsuit filed against the team. The Buccaneers’s cheerleaders received an $825,000 settlement following a suit of their own in March 2015. Both teams implemented minimum wage as of the 2014-2015 season. According to The LA Times, this means a guaranteed $9 an hour for the Raiderettes, plus overtime, and an overall annual increase from approximately $1,250 to 3,200 a year. 

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9 Comments on "The NFL Cheerleader Wage Theft War"

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Communists!^ Regardless if there is a line or not, people should be paid for the hard work they put in. What your saying is that we should keep America’s wage inequality gap by paying people who work EXTREMELY-HARD-year-round less than people like CEO’s and stars just because one group gets way more media attention. Comment #1, its essentially the same entertainment as football (except football is cooler;) It’s not about whether the job is a meaningful occupation or not. Heck! There is a lot of jobs and things that do not benefit to society! TONS! Yet you people think that… Read more »

Football is just for entertainment purposes also so cheerleaders should get the same amount of money as a football player does

Marven Edouard Corrielus
Marven Edouard Corrielus

That’s absurd. People dont come to the games for the cheerleaders. They come to watch the players. The players deserve to get paid more because they take all the risk. They put the butts in the seats. Obviously they should get paid more. But not like the players.


Corrections V* except the good American DVF who believes in fair wages. (Regardless on personal opinions)


IF the league minimum for rookies is $435,000 and the practice squad is 6600.00 a week then pro cheerleaders who are asked to brave weather just like players to show up at every game like players should fall in there at
around $2500 to $3000 per game because they work hard and make a cut just like the players.


You want the job for that kind of pay, ok. Keep your flytrap shut and was ok for that kind of pay.

Don Reynolds
Simply crazy. Is this the best that the upper middle class has as a way to to dilute the very real issue of wage theft and workplace abuses. The upper middle class see wage theft in the news and they have to find a way that they can portray them selves as victims. They are cheerleaders, they add absolutely nothing to society other than capitalizing on their looks. I have much far more compassion for strippers who actually are exploited. Anyone who views cheer leading as an actual occupation get exactly what they deserve and to have a middle age… Read more »

Nfl cheerleaders need to get a real job if they want paid. Cheerleading is high school and college stuff. They don’t do nothing except a few dances. Get a real job

Michael Kennedy

Zero sympathy, and throw any and all lawsuits out on their heads. You agree to work for a price, work for that price. If you think you’re worth more, go somewhere that doesn’t have a line out the door of people willing to work for the offered price. Period.

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