By Ken Reed

I’ve always thought that the use of cheerleaders by professional sports franchises was disgusting. The practice clearly exploits and objectifies women. Despite the thousands of female football fans in attendance at games and watching on television, NFL cheerleaders were designed simply to satiate the stereotypical male team sports fan’s three primary desires: babes, beer, and balls (sports). Since the advent of the scantily-clad Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in the early 1970’s, providing those three things for male customers has long been the formula for the NFL (and the NBA as well).

But until reading Patrick Hruby’s eye-opening piece, I didn’t realize how degrading and exploitative NFL franchises could be when it comes to their cheerleaders.

This excerpt provides a quick — and representative — overview of Hruby’s piece:

This year, current and former cheerleaders from five different NFL teams have filed lawsuits against their employers, alleging (among other things) that the teams failed to pay minimum wages, instead paying as a little as $2.85 an hour; that they forced cheerleaders to cover their own business expenses; that they imposed illegal fines for workplace infractions such as gaining five pounds; that they auctioned off cheerleaders as golf tournament prizes, which meant sitting in men’s laps; that they required cheerleaders to sell at least 30 copies of a swimsuit calendar but shared none of the profits; and in the case of the Buffalo Bills, that cheerleaders were subjected to a weekly “jiggle test,” in which cheer coaches “srutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips and butt while she does jumping jacks.” That lawsuit, against the Bills, also references a cheer squad handbook that explains in detail how to wash one’s vagina.

I’ve never liked the concept of cheerleaders, at any level. I think the whole institution is a relic from a much more sexist era (think 1950’s). The message is clear: boys play sports and girls go to the sidelines and cheer for the boys — and try to look cute, of course. I wouldn’t mind seeing cheerleaders at all levels, including high school, go the way of the dinosaurs. It’s a sports tradition we simply don’t need anymore.

But at least high school cheerleading has some redeeming value, NFL cheerleading doesn’t. The whole practice is simply shameful.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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