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The Shockingly Low Salaries of Professional Cheerleaders

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High-school cheerleaders rule the halls, commanding the admiration of every dweeb, dork, and quarterback. But as salaried adults, cheerleaders are at the bottom of the pyramid. 

This week, current and former Raiderettes—the cheer squad for the Oakland Raiders—filed suit in the Alameda County Superior Court, claiming that the football team “withholds all pay from the Raiderettes until after the season is completed, does not pay for all hours worked and forces the cheerleaders to pay many of their own business expenses,” according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The Raiderettes’ lawyer, who is demanding tens of thousands of dollars in back-pay, said the cheerleaders make only $1,250 a year, or less than $5 an hour, and they’re fined for minor lapses like bringing the wrong pom-poms to rehearsals or for “not turning in written biographies on time.” One of the plaintiffs added that the team also makes the women foot their own hair, makeup, travel, and photo expenses.

The Raiders, though, are far from the only—or even the worst—offenders when it comes to cheaping out on cheerleaders. San Diego Chargers cheerleaders get $75 for each home game, along with two game tickets and one parking pass. The Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders make $100 for each of 10 (mandatory) performances at home games. That includes showing up five hours before the game starts, practicing twice a week for three hours from April through January, and participating in a “training camp” each June.

“Becoming a Ravens Cheerleader is a huge time commitment,” the FAQ page admits. “However, it is an experience you will never forget.”

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, whose grueling audition and training process has been well-documented, are similarly stingy. The women make $150 per home game, and there is no pay for rehearsals, of which there are many. (“CANDIDATES WHO DO NOT FEEL THEY CAN ATTEND ALL REHEARSALS SHOULD NOT CONTEMPLATE BEING A DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADER,” the official DCC site, a masterwork of Southern passive-aggression, implores.)

Furthermore, the dancers must maintain “a high level of physical fitness” because “the DCC uniform is not forgiving.” The entire squad re-auditions each year, so veterans risk being cut even after years of practice.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, meanwhile, earned a base salary of $11.5 million in 2013.

But before we award the Raiderettes the social-justice spirit stick (or before we nerds succumb to overwhelming Schadenfreude), it’s worth remembering that professional cheerleaders are also paid a fee for the dozens of promotional appearances they make each season. Or as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders site puts it, “Opportunities for paid appearances and shows are available!”

The cheerleader positions are technically part-time jobs, so most of the squads require the women to have outside sources of income.

And as in high school, being a professional cheerleader can have fringe benefits beyond game day. Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have traveled the world on USO tours, for example, and some of the squad’s alumni later moved on to more lucrative careers in show-business and modeling.

But for the Raiderettes, those perks aren’t enough.

“I love the Raiders and I love being a Raiderette,” the squad’s lead plaintiff said. “But someone has to stand up for all of the women of the NFL who work so hard for the fans and the teams."

h/t Jezebel

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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