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What's hidden behind 30-watt smiles and pom poms?

by Alyssa Daley - Editor-in-Chief
Tue, Apr 10th 2018 09:00 pm

What do you think of when you hear the word cheerleader? A toned woman in her 20’s who smiles and waves her pom poms in support of the brave, burly football players? If that is what you think of, I’m sure you’re not alone, although I’m hoping that what I have written will change your perspective. Cheerleaders have been trying to change the stigma that comes with their occupation for what seems like forever. The majority of the public does not take what they do seriously and most definitely does not consider what they do to be a sport. Cheerleading, unbeknownst to most, requires an extensive knowledge of both dance and gymnastics. It is the balance of both of these that allow for cheerleading competitions where backhand springs and flyers being thrown however many feet in the air to music, are considered fundamental skills. 

Arguably the most famous cheerleading squad in the National Football League (NFL) is the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC). Unfortunately, it is not the women’s athletic prowess that has made them known from sea to shining sea, but if you’ve ever thought to look further than the 30-watt smiles, high kicks and pom poms, you might’ve discovered that there is a lot more to making it onto the team than having a knockout body. 

Auditions are a multi-step process of applications, preliminary auditions, semi-final auditions, personal interviews, written tests and final talent auditions for selected candidates. The whole point of these tryouts is to decide which candidates will be invited to the DCC training camp. Going to the camp doesn’t necessarily mean potential cheerleaders have made it either. There is another cut at the end of the training camp that will determine the DCC squad for that year. Each day during the weeklong process applicants are required to begin their audition days at 8 a.m. and are told to be prepared for spending the whole day at tryouts.

During semi-finals, candidates are required to learn a dance combination and kickline that they will be expected to perform many times throughout the rest of the audition process that they have never performed prior. The written test includes questions on general knowledge about the Dallas Cowboys Organization, the history of the DCC, the NFL, current events and dance terminology.The final audition components are solo talent presentation, written essay, panel interview and test, according to dallascowboys.com

The point is the focus on dance and being able to meet certain criteria that can only be met if you are in shape. This is woven throughout the DCC tryouts, and their audition process is pretty standard of all NFL cheerleading squads. Cheerleaders have to perform at a certain level and are required to not only train for their positions on the squad but also maintain rigorous workout schedules and meal plans, just like the football players they’re supporting. On top of that, they’re constantly sexualized to earn money for the teams they represent. Because of this, you’d think they’d be earning just as much as their football playing counterparts or at least close to it. If you try to figure out how much a cheerleader makes by contacting the team they cheer for, you’ll most likely not hear back from them, but a hint at the meager amount of  lies in the lines, “TOTAL COMMITMENT IS REQUIRED!!!! A [cheerleader’s] schedule is very busy” and “... most cheerleaders hold part-time or full-time jobs or attend college …” These lines are telling because the first lets you know these women are putting in many hours and the second proves they are not getting properly paid for those hours, definitely not enough money to live off.

According to the USA Today article entitled, “6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Careers of NFL Cheerleaders” NFL teams’ reluctance to discuss the issue of cheerleaders’ wages could be because these big bad men fear being sued. 

“In recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed alleging that teams broke the law by paying subminimum wages to cheerleaders. The results of these lawsuits have varied, with one NFL team agreeing to a $1.25 million settlement with former cheerleaders, one claim thrown out of court, and one team, the Buffalo Bills, dropping its cheerleaders entirely.” 

I find it interesting that the team made the choice to completely get rid of its cheerleaders completely rather than pay them properly is sitting pretty only an hour away. If I’m being honest, the Buffalo Bills cheerleaders were probably better and had more fans than the football team itself. The first season the Bills played without the support of their official cheerleading squad was 2014. 

Looking at the attendance rates for the Buffalo Bills, but disregarding years 2011 to 2013 due to excessively low attendance most likely caused by fans who needed a break from not making it to the playoffs in over 10 years, there were higher numbers of fans coming to games prior to the team letting go its cheerleaders. Since, the Bills got rid of the cheer squad in 2014 it has been unable to generate an attendance of 571,240 which, with the cheerleaders, the team was able to achieve in 2008, according to statista.com.

The reason why the rights of cheerleaders and really all women being discriminated against in sports has once again made headlines is because about a week ago it came to light that in January of this year, a New Orleans Saints cheerleader by the name of Bailey Davis was fired over an Instagram post. If this seems ridiculous, you’re right, it is. But just wait, it gets better. 

Davis couldn’t even identify herself as a Saintsation, the name of the Saints cheerleading squad being Saintsations, on social media. If she wanted to make money by teaching a dance class, as she needs another job due to the low pay, she couldn’t list being a pro-cheerleader in the experiences section on her resume. She couldn’t wear clothes with a Saints logo on her off days or use her last name during public appearances. Like all the other Saintsations, she could spend no more than four seasons on the squad. All while there were all of these “couldn’ts,” she was still required to represent herself as a “role model” and avoid “questionable social interaction” or risk being fired, according to The Washington Post

After the Saints terminated her, she filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Saints and the NFL, claiming female cheerleaders and male players unfairly face different standards when it comes to life restrictions and then repercussions for not abiding by those rules that extend far beyond the workplace. 

New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic has introduced legislation to improve conditions for cheerleaders and spoke with The Washington Post on the matter.

“There’s a long-standing history of the NFL not dealing with these workplace inequalities,” Rozic said. “The social and political discourse in this country right now is such that there’s no way around it.”

Davis isn’t even seeking equal pay, or equal perks, to what Saints players have received, even though she justly deserves them. All she wants is to be “treated the same as Saints players when both are similarly situated. Since players and cheerleaders both perform for the Saints, she wants them subjected to the same rules regarding using an affiliation with the team for promotion, fraternization and social media postings,” according to the aforementioned article.

A positive amidst all of this is that Davis was inspired by Aly Raisman, one of the leading voices in the case of putting away abusive USA Gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar. The #METOO movement and its extension Time’s Up also helped Davis find the courage within herself to stand up and say to the bigwigs in the NFL “what you are doing is wrong.”

So the next time you or someone you know is about to say something totally misogynistic and frankly disgusting that borders on sexual harassment about cheerleaders, whether they’re pro or simply on high school squads, how about just not. Instead, use your voices to demand equal treatment between the football players and the women who do so much more than simply smile and shake their pom poms.

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