For the majority of my life, when I have imagined cheerleaders–especially professional ones–I have envisioned happy, bouncing women who are unreasonably good at doing backflips and say things like, “It’s a cheerocracy.” To be honest, I never thought much about how well they were paid or the fact that pro-sports cheerleaders are workers just like everybody else. Apparently, neither did the Oakland Raiders.
Two former cheerleaders, known as “Raiderettes” for the Northern California NFL team, are suing the Raiders for wage theft. Lacy T., a former Raiderette, was already suing the Raiders for what she says are illegal practices built right into the cheerleaders’ contracts when co-captain and four-year cheerleader Sarah G. joined her in the suit this week. In an interview with Salon, the pair and their lawyer Leslie Levy explained why they are pursuing the Raiders’ allegedly sketchy business practices in court.
When asked what kind of “illegal provisions” were built into the women’s contracts, Levy explained:
“…in California, it’s required that you get a paycheck every two weeks. These Raiderettes start their season … in April, and they do not get their one and only paycheck until the following January …
The contract calls for them to get paid $125 for each game. Game days are 10 hours long — they do not get paid the two hours overtime …
According to the contract, they’re not to be paid for practices, they’re not to be paid for charity appearances …”
So basically, they do an exorbitant amount of unpaid work for the team and don’t even get paid until January after working for, what, 10 months? I’ve certainly gotten stressed while waiting for my paycheck, but I can’t even imagine trying to wait that long. Surely, many of the women have other jobs to support themselves, but given the fact that they have to travel, make public appearances, work out constantly, go to practices, and attend games that last 10 hours, I doubt there are many jobs that are easy for them to acquire, let alone maintain and stay healthy.
And what’s more? This isn’t even a Raiders-exclusive issue, says Levy:
“This is an NFL-wide practice … Pretty much any NFL team that we have heard of or know about engages in some version of this contract, that does not provide compensation in accordance with either state or federal law.”
Apparently, even the mascots–whom Levy says are almost exclusively male–are paid “between $30,000 and $65,000 a year” for significantly less work than these women. So, what are they hoping for? Change for all cheerleaders in the NFL. As for the Raiderettes specifically, Levy says the penalties could be high.
“The women will be entitled to any back wages they’re owed, and they will be entitled to penalties.
It could be as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per Raiderette, and there are 40 in any given year, and we go back four years …”
Sarah says she feels “betrayed by an organization that I gave my heart and soul to for the past four seasons,” which is so heartbreaking. Again, I think my main idea of what cheerleaders are like is from Bring It On and similar films, and given the sport’s reputation for being primarily male egotism-driven and not requiring much talent, people tend to overlook it as something you can dedicate your life to.