The Underpaid Life Of A Professional Cheerleader

There's been an ongoing argument about whether cheerleading is a sport. But for the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, it's a job. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay very well.

In an exhaustively researched piece for TBD, Amanda Hess breaks down the expenses of just trying out for a slot as a Redskins cheerleader, which total in the thousands of dollars. But should they actually make the cut, they only get paid $75 per game — and a full game day's worth of duties can last 12 hours. Unlike the Redskins themselves, the cheerleaders don't control use of their images, so the team can reproduce their photos in a variety of promotional materials without paying them a licensing fee. The cheerleaders are part of the Redskins' very successful and lucrative brand, yet they're paid next to nothing for their services.

Hess identifies a couple of factors that contribute to this situation. One: cheerleading has long been treated as more of an "extracurricular activity" than a job. Says one former cheerleader, now 84, "We always used to say it was our answer to the men's bowling league." But playing football is a hobby to most people — unless they're skilled enough to make it to the highest levels, in which case they get paid big bucks. Shouldn't those at the highest levels of cheerleading make good money too? The fact that they don't may have to do with the old stereotype that women's work, whether it's childcare, chores, or, in this case, challenging gymnastics and dancing, isn't really worthy of compensation.

Cheerleaders also face another problem: their job involves being sexy. Sportswriter Gregg Easterbrook, who has taken up the cause of fair pay for cheerleaders, tells Hess, "The feminist groups could get involved with this, but the number of affected women is very small in the great scheme of things. And feminist groups are uncomfortable with really good-looking women who want to dance around in bikinis." The idea that feminists hate hot ladies in bikinis is a pretty tired one, but he's right that debates about whether cheerleading is "good for women" may distract advocates from something that's unequivocally good for women — getting fair pay. It's also true that women whose jobs involve sexuality don't always get the most respect. Put all this together with the general difficulties women face when they work in sports, and you have a group of people with a lot of forces working against them — and few willing to take their side. Someone needs to — because whether or not you think cheerleading is a great job, it's clearly an arduous one, and those who do it deserve to be paid accordingly.

Washington Redskins Cheerleaders: All Work, (Almost) No Pay [TBD]