This weekend, the New England Patriots will face off against the Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl LIII to determine the champion of the National Football League for the 2018 season. But the football players won’t be the only athletes in the spotlight.
This year, the cheerleaders are set to make a statement, as the Los Angeles Rams’ Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies debut as the first male cheerleaders ever to partake in a Super Bowl. But despite this milestone, the reality is that cheerleading remains somewhat stuck in the past — at least when it comes to their pay.
Cheerleading culture is a murky territory — perhaps deliberately so. While most football fans know a lot about the players on their favorite team, fewer know about the women on their cheerleading squads: who they are, how much they make, and what it's actually like to be a professional cheerleader. Turns out, it’s actually a pretty hard job.
Many NFL cheerleaders must adhere to a grueling work and practice schedule — one former cheerleader said she often worked between 30 to 40 hours per week. They reportedly do not make very much money, often earning sub-minimum-wage compensation for their time.
In order to be eligible for an NFL cheerleading squad, members must hold a full-time job elsewhere or be a full-time student, but it’s difficult to imagine someone keeping a full-time job while working such demanding hours.
“I really felt like I had two full-time jobs during the season,” Tiffany Monroe, an ex–Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader, told Money. “And our season never really ended. We got a little bit of a break in February.”
A number of legal battles in recent years have attempted to bring about more fairness and transparency when it comes to compensation and employment practices. In 2014, the Raiders' cheer squad, the Raiderettes, reached a settlement after filing a lawsuit claiming they were underpaid and treated unfairly. In fact, one of the women who filed the lawsuit estimated that she earned less than $5 an hour in pay. Others, meanwhile, have reported they would be fined for forgetting their pom-poms or benched for gaining weight.
Today, it’s estimated that NFL cheerleaders earn between $75 to $150 per game (this doesn't include other corporate appearances, which would likely be paid at a different rate). Cheerleader pay has been affected by state laws mandating minimum wages, including a 2016 law in California that required cheerleaders to earn at least the state minimum wage of $10 per hour, instead of the flat $75 per game some teams had previously been making.
Still, when you stop to consider that the NFL makes upwards of $14 billion in revenue each year — while also adhering to some pretty questionable practices — the fact that cheerleaders continue to pocket minimum wage (and sometimes even less) is clearly problematic. Generally, it’s rare for professional cheerleaders to make more than a few thousand bucks in a whole season.
Even in the face of such lawsuits and increased scrutiny, the NFL has remained extremely secretive about how much cheerleaders actually make. For instance, if you take a look at the website for the New England Patriots’ cheerleading squad, there is absolutely no mention of compensation. The page only outlines responsibilities, including that cheerleaders are “required to attend a minimum of two rehearsals per week, perform on the sidelines at Patriots home games, participate in public appearances and participate in photo shoots.” The job application for the squad makes no mention of pay, either.
Ultimately, bearing in mind the NFL’s mind-boggling revenue and the fact that many NFL players make millions, knowing that cheerleaders continue to earn such piddling paychecks could certainly be enough to sour the game.