OPINION: The ugly truth behind the glitter and pompoms


Photo credit: Carolyn Warcup

Vanessa Rodriguez

Full disclosure, I, personally, haven’t had great experiences with cheerleaders throughout my life. However, my unpleasantness doesn’t even begin to equate to what these professional cheerleaders have been enduring.

It isn’t all glitz and glamour to be a National Football League (NFL) cheerleader. It takes a little more than endurance and pretty looks to secure a spot on the squad… it takes sacrificing autonomy.

For 22-year-old former The New Orleans Saints Cheerleader Bailey Davis, life just got a little more complicated. After sharing a seemingly modest lingerie picture on her personal Instagram account, Davis was fired due to a policy of posting nude, semi-nude, or in-lingerie pictures on social media.

To be fair, the photo in question is no more revealing than any of her previously posted photos in her cheerleading uniform.

Apparently, being an NFL cheerleader comes with strict rules and regulations, some that could be compared to a convent. Let’s review some absurd NFL cheerleader rules, shall we?

For the Carolina Panthers cheerleaders, or “Topcats,” girls must be at the stadium five hours before the game commences. Any body piercings or tattoos are to be covered up or removed. Water breaks can only be taken if the Panthers are on offense and the girls must leave the premises to change into personal attire after the game.

Weigh-ins are expected for the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders. How exciting to be constantly reminded that in order keep your job, the “ideal weight” must be achieved.

Many cheerleader handbooks, according to The New York Times, include a variety of hygiene tips on shaving and even the proper use of a tampon. Apparently, adult women have no idea how to use a feminine hygiene product that they’ve been using for years!

Cheerleaders must sell raffle tickets and calendars, attend and appear at charity events and golf tournaments, all while receiving no proceeds or pay in return.

The NFL even tries to control many of these women’s social media activity, their prospective suitors, and who they socialize with.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, NFL football players involved with domestic violence and sexual harrassment are just benched for their behavior. Do I smell sexual discrimination?

Cheerleaders for the Saints must avoid contact with the players either in person or online and must take it upon themselves to block players on social media. However, the players have the freedom to decide who’d they like to interact with online and in person, with no repercussions.

For the Saints, it is against handbook regulations to post any picture of a cheerleader in Saints gear, prohibiting them from marketing themselves. Yet, the players can do so freely.

If a cheerleader goes to restaurant and a player is at that same restaurant, it is required and demanded that SHE must leave.

SAY WHAT? Yes, even her choice of where to eat is restricted.

Now, I for one never considered cheerleading a sport. Seeing girls wave their pompoms and maybe do a cartwheel didn’t exactly scream “athlete” to me during my adolescence.

However, professional cheerleading is a different story. Many of these women put in 40 to 50 hours per week of brutal training in order to obtain flawless routines and perfect bodies. Yet even with all the hard work, cheerleaders are paid just above minimum wage.

Some cheerleaders make $1,000 per year, that’s $64,000 less than a mascot and a whopping $1,899,000 less than the average NFL player.

As a female, this is outrageous.

I am fully aware there will be someone (if not many someones) out there saying, “Well, that’s the job they chose. They knew what they were getting into.” For those with these perspectives, reflect on a time where the perceived hype of a job or specific event was completely soiled for you from the ACTUAL experience. Are we on the same page? Great, moving on.

This unfair treatment of NFL cheerleaders has been going on for years. Yet little has been done to defend it until the late 2000s.

This isn’t right. Something has to change. Professional cheerleaders deserve much more, especially if they’re an aspect of a misogynistic sport that evolves around aggression, beer and pretty women.

Go America.

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