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In the National Football League, the players aren’t the only stars. At times so, too, are each team’s cheerleaders. Yet, a little known fact is that not all NFL teams have cheerleaders.
Only 6 teams as of the 2022 season do not have a cheer squad on the sidelines: the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and Green Bay Packers.
The reason is mainly one or the other: Either the city where the cheerleaders perform most often is just too cold; or previous cheerleaders caused teams too much grief regarding working conditions. (Which kind of roots back to the first reason, performing in freezing temperatures, in snow storms, and pouring rain).
What gives? Aren’t cheerleaders a big part of the overall extravaganza of attending a live football game? Aren’t the pretty, shiny cheerleaders a representation of the team brand? Don’t cheerleaders attract television cameras?
All good stuff, but not enough for some NFL teams. Let’s explore.
Cheerleading squads became prevalent on NFL sidelines in the 1970s, driven by the look and popularity of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Although cheerleaders had been seen at NFL games on and off since 1954, it took mass media exposure to make teams take them seriously as marketing tools.
The Dallas cheerleaders did that, and some. The biggest driver was a cheer squad poster that flew off the shelves. Older NFL fans probably still remember that poster on their wall in their teens.
Because of that sensation, and NFL owners being the competitive monsters they are, every team pretty much built a cheer squad, each with nifty names, and ever-revealing outfits. That was pretty much throughout the 1980s and 1990s and first decade of the 21st century.
Then cheerleaders began to question why they were so poorly paid. For many years the answer to the question, “How much do NFL cheerleaders get paid?” was, $25 per game. That was the pay generally, and it lasted for many years.
The past decade brought better pay to the NFL cheerleaders. By 2022,
An NFL cheerleader makes, on average, about $22,500 a year, or $150 per game. They also can get $50 to $75 per public appearance away from games.
Some cheerleaders can make up to $500 per game (with some estimates that the top ones can gather up to $1,000 per game) ~ if they happen to be a member of a popular squad, do a lot of side “extras” like public appearances, or get to do playoff games.
The top of the NFL cheerleader pay scale is $75,000, for the cheer squads of the Cowboys and for the TopCats of the Carolina Panthers.
On teams other than that, veteran cheerleaders make somewhere in the $50,000 to $70,000 a year range.
By the 2nd decade of the 21st century, the women’s rights movement rekindled and caught attention from the media.
Finally, in 2016, the Oakland Raiderettes sued the club, and in the process forced the organization to formally sign them on as employees, instead of just independent contractors as was the practice throughout the league. Other cheer squads then also filed suits..
In some of these cities, the issue drew interest from elected officials. Some submitted draft laws to their legislatures. In California, the law passed.
The Raiderettes filed the complaint, and the court ordered the Oakland Raiders to pay cheerleaders the minimum wage, which is $15 per hour in California.
The following year, the state of California passed legislation forcing businesses (the NFL teams in that state) to recognize the cheerleaders as employees, therefore all of them entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.
The initial lawsuits and legislation helped govern cheer squads moving forward. However, the cheerleaders were not done with the NFL for what was past.
Around the time of the 2016 filing against the team, separately and independently a couple of former Raiderettes filed a class-action lawsuit alleging “wage theft.” The club reached a $1.25 million settlement.
A few years later, In 2021, cheerleaders for 10 NFL teams filed suit for wage theft, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
The settlements thus far have been substantial, including a $825,000 settlement for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and $255,000 from the Cincinnati Bengals.
At least those teams kept their cheer squads. The Buffalo Bills dropped its “Jills” cheer team once a lawsuit was filed by 5 cheerleaders, seeking compensation for unpaid hours worked. They won $3.5 million; the Jills disappeared.
due to lawsuits like those noted above (5 “Jills” cheerleaders complained in court about unpaid hours worked, and won $3.5 million).
So a lawsuit spurred the Buffalo Bills to drop cheerleading. For the other teams that do not have cheerleaders, it was a matter of working conditions. It is just too cold for scantily clad cheerleaders to be working the winter in Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay.
Only a single NFL team does not have cheerleaders for philosophical reasons: the New York Giants. That club’s ownership does not believe in hardly dressed women entertaining fans at its home games.
NFL Cheerleaders’ Rough Working Conditions
Pro football is different from other major team sports in that the games go on no matter the weather. It could be double-digits below zero in temperature and players must execute on the field.
Players get the benefit of layers of padding, plus exerting themselves heavily to generate heat. Not so for the cheerleaders on the sidelines.
Fans will see cheer squad members with warming hats (like ski caps, or Santa-like hats), and even workout pants instead of the hot pants and bare legs.
Besides the elements, the job is not as easy as just jumping down on the sidelines for 3 or 4 hours every Sunday. First of all, these teams are professional performers who must synchronize much of their act. That means about 40 hours of practicing during the week in preparation.
Game day they must arrive several hours prior to the game to get ready, meaning their makeup and hair, all according to team rules. Team rules of course differ per club, but some of the rules normal people would find strange:
- Cheerleaders cannot date NFL players
- Pay for your uniforms
- Never be seen in public unkempt
- No cussing or otherwise misbehaving in public
- NFL cheerleaders cannot have tattoos
- Same for piercings: no visible pierced jewelry showing during games and events, per most teams
Some teams get criticized for strict rules for the cheerleaders but not for the players. For instance, NFL players are free to have as many tattoos as they want ~ and many are covered in them.
Not so for the cheerleaders, who must cover tattoos with clothing or makeup while performing, and can’t even wear earrings to events away from the stadium.
National Football League clubs are very careful with maintaining a positive image for their team, and the overall brand. Football is big business, and each team is a corporation, and as such, every element connected to it contributes to the public’s perception of the organization.
That includes the cheerleaders, who have a strict dress code both on and off the field. Cheerleaders in any of the major sports make money away from the stadium, representing the team at public events, like autograph signings, or fund-raisers.
Even at these events, where no football is played, the NFL cheerleaders are required to dress and act a certain way, but team regulation.
Question: So on average how much are NFL cheerleaders paid?
Answer: Most NFL cheerleaders make $15 to $20 per hour. Veteran cheerleaders, or those who perform for high-paying teams, can make much more. In most states, NFL cheerleaders won the right to minimum wage at the least, or $7.25 to $15 per hour depending on the state.
Q.: How are NFL cheerleaders punished if they break the rules?
A.: Usually with suspension. Some are terminated. However, for a long time the NFL cheerleaders worked as independent contractors, and not employees of the club, meaning they had few rights and worked under what is called “at will.” This means they could be fired for any reason without question. As many teams were forced to make cheerleaders formal employees, sometimes the cheer team members are protected from harsh punishments, kind of like all other regular employees around the nation.
Q.: Can’t NFL cheerleaders wear coats while performing?
A.: Only if the team allows for such, which is very rare. Usually they cannot “cover up” the uniform. However, in very extreme weather conditions teams may allow exceptions. However, such exceptions must be engaged by every team member to ensure uniformity. Not to mention that it might be difficult to perform cheerleading moves in a long-sleeved, heavy top garment.