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Fans of the National Football League are not all the stereotypical fanatical, near-lunatics portrayed on television or in movies. A great percentage of them are what are called casual fans, and these more subdued, inquisitive football fans often send us great questions. Such as, Can NFL players date cheerleaders?
Cheerleaders for National Football League teams cannot date the NFL players. They are forbidden, in their contracts, to serve in the cheerleader capacity with teams.
As is human nature, it still occurs ~ but not often. First, the rule is not strongly enforced. Second, it is entirely possible to hide personal relationships almost anywhere.
Unfortunately, when such a relationship is discovered, the player is not who is punished. It’s the cheerleader who pays the price, usually with termination.
The simple contractual rule for NFL cheerleaders is usually something along these lines: “Stay away from players at all times.” It’s not just the issue of dating. It’s a ban on any fraternization with players.
The reasons for this rule are common for large businesses or corporations (which NFL clubs have become). The main reason is to reduce liability, meaning, avoid the potential for lawsuits should a relationship go sour.
Sexual harassment charges, in particular, are bad public relations for teams involved in a sport driven by masculinity.
Another reason is simply workforce production. No business operator wants drama in the workplace. With the amount of money that football players are paid, team owners expect their focus to be entirely on winning, and not on anything else if possible.
Dating someone who you see at work every day (or in the NFL’s case, once a week 8 times a year, when team cheerleaders entertain at home games) is not a simple thing to manage.
Should emotions take over either party in public, the results can be quite ugly.
Probably the biggest problem with player-cheerleader fraternization is the appearance of a conflict of interest, that a performer made the cheer team only because of such a relationship with a player (and not due to her talent).
NFL clubs are quite peculiar, and straight-out controlling, of their cheerleaders. These low-paid contractors or part-time employees must abide by plenty of strict rules, some of which you may find surprising. Such as:
- Hide all tattoos and piercings; maintain an impeccable appearance at all times, on or off the field!
- Drastic appearance changes are forbidden. Basically, the hair style and other elements of a cheerleader’s look seen on the field should also be seen out in public.
- Control weight. Adding a few pounds could result in a game’s suspension, or even termination, for a cheerleader. (NFL players also have terms in their contracts about maintaining certain weights).
- No opinions or complaints. Also, no using slang language or curse words in public. In other words, try to serve as role models not only for the team, but for little ones who aspire to cheer on the sidelines some day.
- Never be seen sitting down.
- No eating, drinking, or smoking while wearing a team uniform.
- Cheerleaders are required to purchase their own uniforms.
- No funny stuff online or on social media.
For the teams, the league advises clubs to follow all federal and state employment laws, which can vary by state (See below). The NFL league organization does not require its clubs to establish strict rules for their cheerleaders, their appearance, and behavior.
History of NFL Cheerleaders and Player Commingling
The concept for cheerleaders at NFL games was born by Dallas Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm in 1967, and it took 3 years before the squad was developed into the fancily dressed, synchronized-dancing troupe familiar on sidelines today.
Styles for the professional cheer squads were developed to differ from the all-familiar cheer teams in college and high schools. The NFL cheerleaders’ uniforms were more revealing, and had the performers in hot pants rather than the mini-skirts used in schools.
The Cowboys cheerleaders became a sensation in the late 1970s with the release of a calendar and photos of the squad members, boosting their popularity. The squad even appeared on television shows like “Love Boat” back in the day.
During an era filled with so-called “sex symbols” like Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs, NFL cheerleaders soon were added to the list and promoted heavily in the media.
Very soon thereafter, in the early 1980s, all NFL teams began setting up their own cheerleading teams, with names spun off team names, like the Raiderettes, or the Ewes for the Rams.
With the fame came recognition, and a realization by teams that rules and control would be needed or the cheer squads could become a liability. Including, if the women became romantically involved with the players, on the field.
Quarterback Troy Aikman began dating Cowboys Cheerleader Abigail Klein ~ but only after his retirement. However, the seeds of that relationship were sown while he was an NFL superstar.
Super Bowl-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford met his future wife while he led the Georgia University football team, and she was a cheerleader there. They dated well into Stafford’s pro career, with the Detroit Lions, before marrying in April 2015.
Retired quarterback Matt Schaub met his future wife while she cheered for the Atlanta Falcons, and he joined the team.
Former NFL wide receiver David Nelson played only 6 seasons, and is probably most known for dating Cowboys cheerleader Kelsi Reich ~ while he played for the Buffalo Bills! When the teams played and Nelson scored a touchdown, he ran over to Reich and handed her the ball, attracting attention to the situation.
These are just some of many known instances of NFL player-cheerleader fraternization. Again, it is a rule not always enforced strongly by teams. It is felt that those caught were simply careless.
A common misconception with NFL cheerleaders is that the fame and fortune of the players is too much of an attraction to fend off. Not so, say some former cheerleaders.
Even though the players make plenty of cash, and cheerleaders make an average of $10 per hour, team cheer squad directors carefully coach and instruct performers to consider themselves as equal to the players. That is, you’re all performers on a field in an entertainment venue.
“We didn’t spend our time being starstruck,” said one retired NFL cheerleader. And, “The inordinate difference in pay scale did nothing to diminish the fact that we were all members of the NFL.”
While the pay might be low, the gig looks good on a resume and many NFL cheerleaders have lofty expectations to move on in their career with their art.
Other cheerleaders appreciate all that comes with making an NFL cheer team, like attending many nonprofit and charity events in the region of their team. Some NFL cheerleaders even travel abroad to entertain U.S. troops!
The NFL cheerleaders do all this, at very low pay, while still having to work other primary jobs to pay the bills. Many work full-time jobs aside from all the practice and game time required to be a cheerleader in the National Football League.
The perception that all NFL cheerleaders get into the occupation with a primary goal of securing a relationship with a player is false for the most part, retired cheerleaders say.
And even if it does happen, there are some cheerleaders who are respectful of team rules, and leave the cheer squad if a player relationship develops.
For many, many years, NFL cheerleaders operated as straight-up contractors for teams, or not as formal employees. However, in recent years this has begun to change, sometimes through the force of state laws.
In 2015, the state of California passed a law recognizing professional cheerleaders in that state as employees, and therefore entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.
California, and other states that followed its lead, requires sports teams (not just the NFL) to employ cheerleaders as workers, as opposed to service as contractors.
Question: Do NFL cheerleaders discuss the situation of dating players?
Answer: Sometimes, but most often once they retire from the activity, so they don’t break team rules while active. AnnMarie Ludlow, NFL cheerleader from 1995 to 1999, wrote on Quora in 2019, “Simply put, it happens. But the reality is, for my and most other teams, it was strictly forbidden to date the players.”
Q.: Have there been widely publicized problems?
A.: Yes. One example is former Washington Redskins (now Commanders) tight end Chris Cooley, who left his first wife to see a team cheerleader he met. Even though the couple eventually married, at the time Oglevee was dismissed from the cheer squad for violating team rules.
Q.: How are NFL cheerleaders fired?
A.: Mostly, the cheerleaders in question are simply not invited back, like for tryouts for the following season. Or, they could be (quietly) asked to resign from the team.