Super Bowl LVI: Cheerleaders IGNORED as NFL, Rams and Bengals rake in billions

Super Bowl LVI: Cheerleaders IGNORED as NFL, Rams and Bengals rake in billions
LA Rams Cheerleaders at Twickenham Stadium on October 22, 2017 in London, England (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

About 117 million viewers are expected to watch Super Bowl LVI on Sunday, February 13 to see the Cincinnati Bengals face the Los Angeles Rams. Fans will be shown $7-million 30-second commercials or the Pepsi-sponsored halftime show, with stadium ticket prices currently ranging from $4,900 to almost $9,000. Viewers will also enjoy performances from cheerleaders for both teams, not knowing that they are paid barely minimum wage for their instrumental role in the grandiose event.

Cheerleaders do not exactly get a slice of the cake at the world's most profitable annual sports event. According to Cheryl Cooky, Purdue University professor of American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, NFL cheerleaders are barely compensated for their performances, with some saying they make only several thousand dollars a year after working 30 to 40 hours a week including rehearsals, workouts, charity events, and attending games. 


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Professor Cooky noted in an op-ed for NBC News how cheerleaders are often required to pay out of pocket for their equipment, uniforms, hair and nail treatments. Considering, they can even lose money despite their indispensable role as representatives of the team and entertainment for the fans. An NFL spokesperson responded to such allegations in March. “For teams that have cheerleaders, the league has no role in their selection, duties, hours or wages," they told BBC Sport, adding that there hadn't been any discussion of making amends to that structure.

A Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader performs during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium on October 20, 2019, in Cincinnati, Ohio (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Given the billions of dollars garnered by the league from selling TV broadcast and streaming rights, the apparent low pay and poor treatment of NFL cheerleaders are quite shocking. The measly amounts they ultimately receive often come after hard-fought battles. Cooky noted how at least 10 out of the 26 NFL teams with cheerleaders had been sued for wage theft, unsafe working conditions, harassment, or discrimination.

The cheerleaders who filed the lawsuits "often made less than minimum wage" and one cheerleader said she's paid "significantly less than her team’s mascot" who made about $60,000 per annum.

The Los Angeles Rams cheerleaders enter the field ahead of a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 29, 2019, in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

In 2014, the Oakland Raiders were ordered to pay out $1.25 million in back wages after losing a landmark case. The team's cheerleaders were then paid $9 an hour, minimum wage at the time, for mandatory events.

According to them, it was double what they had been paid prior to the lawsuit. Another case saw two ex-NFL cheerleaders suing for discrimination offering to settle for $1 in exchange for a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The league subsequently issued a statement saying it would actively work with teams “in sharing best practices” for supporting cheerleaders.

Members of the Las Vegas Raiderettes cheerleading squad perform during the Raiders' game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on January 9, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Cooky notes how cheerleaders "play significant roles for teams that extend well beyond the stadium." They often serve as the poster girls of the franchise at private and community events. Meanwhile, teams frequently issue calendars featuring cheerleaders photographed in bikinis, lounging on beaches, and "frolicking in the ocean." What's more? Aside from poor pay, the performers also have to deal with sexual harassment.

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