Why pro cheerleading may be one of America’s worst jobs

The Raiderettes dance during a timeout between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 3, 2013 in Oakland, Calif.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Parents, don’t let your girls grow up to be cheerleaders.

That’s just one lesson to be gleaned from a lawsuit filed by a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, a National Football League team, which alleges sub-minimum wage pay and other labor abuses. 

While professional cheerleading may seem glamorous, the cheerleaders allegedly earn barely enough to afford their own pom-poms. And, by the way, if they forget their pom-poms, the cheerleaders are reportedly socked with a fine. 

 The lawsuit, brought on behalf of current and former Raiderettes, lays out a damning case against professional cheerleading, portraying the profession as a place where women wait nine months to see a paycheck, are expected to work for free, and suffer from a litany of fines that eat into their already paltry earnings. (Forget your yoga mat? Suffer a fine. Wear the wrong workout clothes? Another fine, according to the lawsuit.)

While the cheerleaders may appear happy on television, their bank accounts may not be quite as jolly. A Raiderette is paid a fee of $125 for each home game in which she performs, but isn’t paid for rehearsals or charitable appearances. The lawsuit alleges the team’s contract pays $1250 for an entire season, or just $5 per hour once a cheerleader's total hours -- including rehearsals, games and charitable events -- are added up.

“I was totally shocked,” said Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams attorney Sharon Vinick, who is representing Lacy T., the cheerleader who brought the claim. “I had no idea that cheerleaders were paid so poorly, and when she shared the written contract, I was outraged. I had never seen a contract that had so many things that were blatantly illegal.”

A representative for the Raiders declined to comment.

Adding to the cheerleaders’ misery is the alleged Scrooge-like payment schedule: the women are only paid after all the Raiders’ home games — or about nine months after they start working on the squad, the lawsuit alleges. 

While the cheerleaders are kicking their way to poverty-level wages, the men playing on the field are earning millions. Raiders running back Darren McFadden earned $5.86 million in the 2013 season, according to Fox Sports. 

The poor pay often comes after the women have spent thousands preparing for an audition, as Amanda Hess wrote on the website TBD.com in 2011. And once a woman is in a squad, she is required to spend hundreds of dollars on personal maintenance, such as hair styling, fees that aren’t reimbursed by her team. 

The Raiderettes aren’t alone in getting the short end of the baton. The San Diego Chargers cheerleaders are paid just $75 for each home game. With 10 home games per season, that’s only a paltry $750. Other teams pay similar low per-game fees to their cheerleaders, the Atlantic notes. 

The Chargers stress that the role is a part-time job and that cheerleaders “should at least hold a part-time job or attend college part-time.” 

With such dismal conditions, why would anyone want to become a cheerleader?

For Vinick’s client, the squad was “a dream job,” she noted. “She applied without really thinking about the consequences,” Vinick said. “When you raise any complaints at all, anything slightly negative to the captain of the Raiderettes, you are told there are hundreds of girls trying out” who would be happy to take your place.