Being a cheerleader in a professional sport sucks. People think of it as a glorious, grand parade of hanging out with young, good-looking, rich athletes and getting paid to stand around and look pretty. That’s not what the job is, well, not entirely. It’s an intense job that involves a lot of practice, hard work, dedication, dealing with drunk dudes, spending a lot of money, not getting paid a lot of money and intense scrutiny everyday by your Orwellian bosses.
The need for cheerleaders at all can be debated, but as they’re around it’s important to know what they go through on a day to day basis. Not being a good looking woman who likes to dance, or a good looking dude with a square chin and a permanent grin, I’ve never been or have wanted to be a cheerleader. I can’t tell you why someone would want to do that job, but some do and it’s important their decision be honored.
Horror stories from cheerleaders have found their way to the public before, notably with three lawsuits by NFL cheerleaders in one year or an anonymous Ravens’ cheerleader speaking to Deadspin. These few glimpse into the life of a cheerleader, if all coming from one sport, paint a hellish picture of life as a professional cheerleader. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the dudes are creepy and the chewing gum is highly regulated.
There’s a lot more to being a cheerleader than looking pretty and dancing, there are also a lot of rules to follow and bad things to deal with. So here’s our list of the 15 craziest rules cheerleaders must follow.
15. Must Always Stand Unless Told Otherwise
Cheerleaders are known, besides their looks, for their elaborate dance routines. These highly coordinated dances take a lot of practice and a lot of work to get right, and they have to be 100% accurate.
In that regard, you’d think cheerleaders would always have something to do during games or other events. They’re so coordinated, why wouldn’t they?
That’s not always the case. Whenever the game is actually being played, cheerleaders are told to simply “always stand and move around,” in the vaguest of terms, the only exception being “unless the appearance calls for sitting.” What does that even mean?
These rules were brought to light by Alyssa U., a former Buffalo Bills cheerleader who is part of a group of five former cheerleaders suing the team. Imagine being at an NFL game in the hot sun, forced to stand there and constantly “move around” the whole game without ever being allowed to sit or take water breaks. It’s a miracle more cheerleaders don’t pass out.
14. Social Media is Monitored or even Controlled
You think your boss constantly walking around the office is bad, try being forced to send them friend requests on Facebook or Twitter. Better yet, see how long you can last turning over your email address and password for your social media.
That’s what an anonymous former cheerleader told Deadspin.
“If you participate in any social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, you are required to ‘Friend Request’ your director.” Every cheerleader also has to turn over any email addresses associated with any social network profile.”
But this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of creepy, controlling bosses.
13. The Chewing Gum is Regulated
Being a cheerleader in a professional sport means not only having to chew teeth-whitening chewing gum, but also having to buy it yourself and getting the specific brand your director tells you to get.
It gets better though, as a cheerleader’s director has the right to ban you from drinking and smoke, even when you’re off the clock.
“The Sea Gal Director may dictate policies regarding gum chewing, smoking, eating, drinking, use of drugs and other activities whenever such activities may reflect negatively on the Seahawks’ organization,” reads the auditioning rules for the Seahawks.
There are also eating regulations in place, also noted in the auditioning rules, but we’ll come back to that. Oh, we’ll come back to that.
12. No Use of Slang
Alyssa U. also us that not only are the looks of an NFL cheerleader important, but so is their way of speaking. Cheerleaders cannot use slang terms or speak in grammatically broken sentences, with specific examples of what not to say being “like,” “I seen it,” “You’s guys,” “dude,” “them guys” “pee” & “ain’t.” I’m not sure if “pee” is an example given by the team or if she decided to throw that one in there, but you can at least appreciate the regionalism of “you’s guys.”
Cheerleaders are also told to use “oh my goodness” instead of “oh my god,” as if they’re going to find themselves in surprising situations on a regular basis.
Alyssa didn’t make it clear if cheerleaders only had to speak like this around fans or also around the stadium and facilities. It’s always best to watch what you say in your place of work, but being told what you can and can’t say is a new extreme for any boss.
11. Told How to Eat Soup
This is where things start to get really weird. According to Alyssa U., cheerleaders are taught how to properly eat soup, as if they were attending an 1850s ladies school of etiquette.
“Dip the spoon into the soup, moving it away from the body, until it is about two-thirds full, then sip the liquid, without slurping, from the side of the spoon without inserting the whole spoon into the mouth. This prevents soup from being spilled onto your clothes.”
Again, there’s room for interpretation in these rules. Whose body should we be moving the spoon away from? Whose mouth should we be inserting the spoon into? When it says “the whole spoon” do you literally mean the entire spoon? Also, there’s no mention of picking the spoon up out of the soup, so I guess you’re supposed to dunk your head in it to sip, like bobbing for apples but with noodles instead.
10. Told How to Use Tampons
Women are told in no uncertain terms how to use a tampon, as if the 18 year old or older hopefuls didn’t already know. Sorry in advance, as this might be a bit unpleasant to read.
“When menstruating, use a product that right for your menstrual flow. A tampon too big can irritate and develop fungus. A product left in too long can cause bacteria or fungus build up. Products can be changed at least every 4 hours. Except when sleeping, they can be left in for the night.”
That was not written by a mother talking to her daughter who just had her first period, that is one of the rules in the Buffalo Jills cheerleading handbook. And yes, they really call their cheerleaders Jills, get it?
9. No Underwear Under Practice Clothes
Alexa Brenneman, a former cheerleader Cincinnati Bengals, filed a lawsuit against the team in 2014 for allegedly violating federal employment laws. In the lawsuit, she outlined some of the rules given to her and her teammates. One of the rules stated that, at practice, women were not allowed to wear any underwear.
“No panties are to be worn under practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties. Wear pantyhose to match skin tone (L’eggs).”
I appreciate that “thong panties” might not be the most comfortable attire at practice, but no underwear at all? Surely these women should be allowed some protection other than whatever L’eggs are (some kind of omelet?) especially considering most of the time they’re going to be wearing a skirt so short your grandpa would probably pass out with a nosebleed.
8. Get Paid Almost Nothing
The contract of the Baltimore Ravens clearly state:
“All cheerleaders will receive $100.00 per game – captains will receive $125.00. If you miss cheering a game due to sickness, injury or suspension you will not receive pay for that game.”
No paid sick leave and not even paid injury leave, even if you received that injury on the job. Even if you made all 16 games, you’re only getting $1,600, maybe more if your team is good enough to make the playoffs.
But, in what is becoming the defining factor of this article, it gets worse. Most of the money a cheerleader gets comes from other gigs, such as charity events or fan rallies. However, cheerleaders go to up to 50 of these a year and most of the time they’re expected to work for free.
As reported by the anonymous cheerleader speaking to Deadpsin, while a cheerleader gets paid up to $300 an hour for attending some events, the events set up by the NFL or by the team specifically, cheerleaders don’t get paid despite the fact that they are required to be there. Not only that, but the rules also state that they have to go to these charity events “at least twice a month, depending on availability.”
Even when you add all that up, most cheerleaders can’t be making more than $10,000 a year at best, $3,000 at worst. All in a business that brought in $6 BILLION in 2013.
7. Hair and Makeup must be Perfect
Cheerleaders always have big hair and even bigger… makeup bills. Hair and makeup in particular have to be absolutely spot on before games, everything down to hair color and the exact shade of lipstick.
Going back to Alyssa U., here’s here account given to the New York Post last year about what happened one day at practice:
“When I was pulled aside, I was told that I was not field ready and would not perform on the field unless I colored my hair. My hair was blonde, but I was told it was not natural looking, and that I needed to go see the Jill’s hairstylist who knew “the Jills look” — who also happened to be the coach’s best friend. And it wasn’t free. You have to pay her, that’s not for free — but we got a $5 discount, so it was around $85.”
Cheerleaders are given a hair and makeup assessment at the start of every year that will determine their hair and makeup style that year. They are then sent to a salon and are required to keep going to that salon every week to maintain the exact same look.
6. Constant Teeth Whitening and Tanning, Brought to you by Yourself
To go in line with not getting paid much, cheerleaders also have to regularly get their teeth whitened and the lighter-skinned cheerleaders must get tans, all of which is not paid for by the team.
Dental hygiene is great and having a dental insurance plan from any employee is a great sign that they care about you as an employee. But having to pay for your own dental plan, one that only covers making your teeth look good without actually taking care of them, is terrible.
This information comes from our anonymous former Ravens cheerleader. Although she didn’t get into specifics about how often cheerleaders are expected to tan, she did point out that the rules state that they “must have a warm skin color tone for every gameday.” A tan can wear off just like whitened teeth. If a cheerleader is asked to tan multiple times a season, that could potentially be hazardous to their health.
At least the team provides vouches to save a little bit of money. That’s something, I guess.
5. Mandatory Calendar Shoots
Ah, the cheerleader swimsuit calendar, the dream of thirteen year old boys everywhere.
These calendar shoots are actually mandatory for cheerleaders. Now let’s get the good stuff out of the way: for women, they often get taken to luxurious locations for free, like the Bahamas for example. For male cheerleaders, they don’t have to go, but if they do, they have to pay for it themselves.
As for the bad stuff, there’s more. The women are taken to random photographers, usually men, they’ve never met or worked with before and are asked to jump into the water half naked or roll around on the beach, again half naked. They’re then grabbed and pulled in a million different directions and contorted in sexy positions that many humans can’t even begin to imagine themselves pulling.
The free vacation might seem like it’s worth it, but when you consider these cheerleaders are there for a day, two tops, and most of that time is spent on set taking pictures, how much of their free time can be spend actually on vacation?
4. Buying and Selling Your Own Calendars
Cheerleaders, men and women, are required to buy those calendars from the team and then sell them off themselves. Women have to buy 100 of them and men only 20.
They then have to sell the calendars at a price regulated by the team, despite the fact those calendars are no longer the team’s property. The calendars are sold to them at $12 each and they sell them back at $15, meaning if they manage to sell everything, they make a $300 profit at the very best. However, that’s no easy feat in the year 2015 when… “similar items” can be found online for free. Not to mention the cheerleaders have to find a way to sell the calendars on their own.
If you think this sounds like some kind of pyramid scheme, you’re not far off.
3. Sexual Harassment is Ignored
“One week prior to the game, we were to dress in our uniforms and stand before our coach, who had a clipboard in her hand, and we had to face forward, turn around, face back to the front and do about 10 jumping jacks. And from there, she would write down on her notepad what parts of our bodies jiggled.”
That is a sample of what the former Bills cheerleader Alyssa U. said in her lawsuit against the Bills.
Alyssa U. also describes one charity auction event where cheerleaders were auctioned off.
“We had to sign up for different jobs or tasks during the tournament — some had to do the dunk tank, some girls had to be auctioned off. People were bidding for which Jill would ride along with them in the golf cart. basically there were four seats to a golf cart — basically four men. So where was this Jill to sit? Well, in the golfer’s lap.”
On the college level, two cheerleading assistant coaches were fired at Ohio State in 2013 for sexually harassing several cheerleaders, sending “inappropriate text messages” and asking for sexual favors.
This goes along with the usual abuse cheerleaders can expect to receive from drunken spectators in the stands and security is rarely called in, if ever.
2. Who You Can and Can’t Date is Regulated
It’s the old rule for cheerleaders: no dating players, coaches, assistants, or even the mascot. In a profession that is built entirely around playing a game and dancing around and looking good, this seems incredibly pathetic on the team’s parts.
You might say this is a good policy, no dating coworkers. Looking at this from another angle though, it doesn’t make sense. For one thing, none of the aforementioned players, coaches, assistants, or mascots are told not to date cheerleaders. It’s not stated in their contracts, it’s not told to them by management. Also, consider the fact that cheerleaders and players/coaches/assistants/etc. never actually interact with each other at any point during a game or practice.
There was even one case with the Raiders in 2014 regarding a secret rule book. In it, the rules allude to a former Raider player who threw a Halloween party one year and sexually assaulted a woman at the party. The rule states: “For you on the squad who have attended those parties, just think how narrowly you missed having your photo in all the local papers and/or being assaulted,” as if simply entertaining the notion of dating an athlete will get you sexually assaulted.
1. Maintain an “Ideal Body Weight”
We all knew this one was coming at some point.
“You are given a 3 lb. leniency weight (example – if your goal weight is 114, you are allowed to weigh in at 117 without being considered over). If you are over your 3 lb. leniency weight, you will be required to stay 30 minutes after practice for extra conditioning.
Ideal weight and recommendations for physique improvements will be provided in Glamour Evaluation. Achieving these expectations is required. Failure to comply with evaluation may result in missed games and/or performance events.
Here is a quote from the former Raven cheerleader talking about her friend and fellow cheerleader.
“After coming in lighter, she put back some of the weight throughout the year. She was benched for multiple games even though she weighed less than she did the year before. Eventually she had the backbone to tell them she was fed up with it, and quit. Believe me when I tell you, she was nowhere near overweight.”
It’s no secret cheerleaders have to keep a thin figure, but this is too much.
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