Update: On the eve of the 2016 Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, paltry pay for NFL cheerleaders remains an ongoing issue. Since this post was originally published in 2014, “the Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets agreed to settlements worth more than $2.6 million combined and the guarantee of minimum-wage pay,” USA Today reports. Still, the lawsuits have only won cheerleaders the right to minimum wage, and these newest requirements aren’t enforced across the league.
When asked about many cheerleaders’ pittance in a pre-Super Bowl press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell offered this tepid observation: “I think the cheerleaders perform a very valuable function for us. They’re very active in their communities. I respect what they do. They do a lot of charitable work. They’re passionate about our game, so I think they should be properly compensated.”
When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks face off in New Jersey for the 2014 Super Bowl, the football players, regardless of their position or notoriety, will take home a handsome paycheck starting at the bottom of the roster barrel at around $6,200 for that game alone — and that’s just for the practice squad that won’t even set foot on the playing field. Cheerleaders, on the other hand, may receive a post-season pay bump, but their typical per-game take home ranges between $70 and $90. In fact, some NFL cheerleaders’ paltry income is so abysmal the Oakland Raiderettes, who are compensated around $5 per hour, recently filed a lawsuit against the NFL for wage theft and unlawful employment practices.
Though professional cheerleading isn’t the most inspirational female career, it nevertheless demands time and intensive training for startlingly little payoff. Moreover, cheerleaders for better or worse are an undeniably significant feature of American football culture, the effervescently sexy “eye candy” for the male, hetero fan base (which actually isn’t all that overwhelmingly male these days) and hyper-feminine visual contrast to the bulked-up, hyper-masculine players on the gridiron. And, c’mon, even professional mascots earn between $23,000 and $65,000 annually, compared to cheerleaders’ average $1,500 annual income.
Tight budgets certainly aren’t a valid excuse for cheerleaders making less than fast food workers, either. Super Bowl fans, for instance, who are shelling out between $2,500 and $3,000 for a seat in New Jersey’s MetLife stadium easily could spend the same amount to hire an entire squad of sideline gymnasts to cheer them along for an afternoon instead and still have cash to spend. Or, for the most dramatic wage comparison of this year’s Super Bowl, consider Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning whose base salary is $15 million, or $937,500 per regular season game. Granted, individual cheerleaders don’t generate anywhere near the economic ripple effect of a top-tier player like Manning, but they aren’t worthless visual commodities, either. Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, who have been around since 1972, attract an estimated $1 million in additional revenue for the franchise. Their per-game pay? A measly $50.
More Stuff Mom Never Told You about Cheerleading: Should cheerleading be considered a sport?