When we chatted on the phone last Tuesday, the college senior was still riding high after her University of Minnesota cheerleading squad secured seventh place in their division at the national cheer competition. However, our conversation took a turn toward the less celebratory as we delved into the issue of NFL cheerleaders’ wages, which, according to many former cheerleaders, are dishearteningly low, with some making as little as $12 per hour for games.
The stark reality of these figures hit hard for Ertl, who was passionate about cheerleading. While NFL football players rake in millions per season, cheerleaders are earning mere pennies – sometimes even covering the costs of their own pom poms.
The financial inequality becomes even more glaring when considering the wealth of the NFL. With an average team valuation of $5.11 billion and the league sitting at $163 billion, the vast difference in cheerleader salaries seems unjustifiable. Meanwhile, cheerleading’s integral role in the game experience and brand building adds considerable value to the NFL.
Former cheerleaders, like Mhkeeba Pate, who conducted an informal survey in 2021, shed light on the grim reality. Responses from nine out of 24 NFL teams revealed cheerleaders earning as low as $12 to $20 per hour for games and $10 to $16 per hour for practices.
The low pay is not only a matter of financial hardship but also sends a discouraging message about the value of cheerleading. Dr. Nicole LaVoi, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, emphasizes that cheerleaders are athletes integral to the game experience and should be compensated accordingly.
Attempts to address this issue, including lawsuits and unionization efforts, have been met with limited success. Cheerleading’s part-time status often forces cheerleaders to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet, but finding flexible employment to accommodate their rigorous schedules proves challenging.
The underpayment of cheerleaders not only perpetuates gender-based pay disparities but also limits diversity within the sport. Mhkeeba Pate hopes that the growing diversity in cheerleading, with more men joining the ranks, might bring fresh perspectives and spur change in an industry plagued by historical financial exploitation.
As cheerleaders continue to navigate the financial challenges of pursuing their passion, the call for fair pay resonates louder than ever. The hope is that, whether through unionization efforts or increased corporate responsibility, cheerleaders will secure the compensation they deserve. The journey may be long and challenging, but it’s a necessary step toward rectifying this longstanding injustice.
Repurposed article originally published in Pop Sugar