Everything You Need To Know About The NFL Cheerleader Scandal

Everything You Need To Know About The NFL Cheerleader Scandal

From poor pay to 'jiggle tests', the NFL's sexist treatment of its cheerleaders keeps making headlines. The latest scandal surrounds New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis, who’s currently fighting the organisation in a discrimination case over an Instagram picture. But does Davis really have a chance of winning against the football giant and its notorious ‘women problem’?

Who is Bailey Davis?

Bailey Davis had been a Saints cheerleader for three years of a strict four-year contract. In January, she posted a picture of herself in a one-piece to her private Instagram page, which allegedly broke the rule prohibiting cheerleaders from appearing naked, semi-nude or in lingerie in public pictures. This, teamed with the fact that she was recently under investigation for attending a party with Saints players – another action that’s prohibited and which she also denies – was apparently enough to warrant her being released from the squad.

Davis made a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is suing the NFL in a fight against its antiquated laws; ones she claims enable the behaviour of its players and punish their cheerleaders.

Why is this so scandalous?

Davis’s case has once again opened the can of worms that is the cheerleader’s handbook, which reveals a number of plainly sexist regulations. According to the Saints rulebook, their anti-fraternisation policy prohibits cheerleaders from interacting with players both online and in person. As such, cheerleaders have stringent guidelines when it comes to their online presence, and they must block all players from social media.

But as the New York Times revealed, there are nearly 2,000 NFL players, many of whom use pseudonyms on separate online accounts for privacy. Cheerleaders must not add or accept any of them, and block any that make contact. Players don’t have to block cheerleaders and are free to pursue them without the worry of penalisation. And if players do manage to get in touch with a cheerleader? It will be the fault of the latter, not the former.

Cheerleaders are also not allowed to dine in the same restaurant as players or speak to them beyond courteous acknowledgement. If a cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If the cheerleader is already dining at a restaurant and a player turns up, she’s still the one who has to leave.

It’s claimed these rules are designed to protect cheerleaders from players, but, in reality, they put the onus completely on women to fight men off, to cover and hide themselves, rather than trying to cut predatory behaviour at the root. “If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders,” Sara Blackwell, Davis’s lawyer, told the Times.

What else do cheerleaders have put up with?

The chasm in all rules between cheerleaders and players is huge. Beyond the demeaning tasks they’re given (such as ‘jiggle tests’ in try-outs and being auctioned off at golf tournaments; forced to sit on the lap of the highest bidder) and a rulebook that tells them how to shave their legs and wear tampons correctly, cheerleaders get paid minimum wage. According to the Times, who reviewed a number of handbooks, most cheer teams are paid just over minimum wage but have to shell out for uniforms, make-up and transportation from their own pay packet. They’re required to practice between six to 15 hours a week, but don’t get paid for that time. Davis in particular received $10.25 (£7.31) an hour, which is just $3 above minimum wage in Louisiana, where they’re based. (For comparison, Saints player Drew Brees is set to make around $24,250,000 this year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Rangers have all successfully sued over poor pay in the past. The latter received $1.25 million in back pay, but their pay was only put up to minimum wage plus overtime.

Most cheerleaders must also take part in an annual calendar shoot, and once the calendars are ready, they’re required to buy a certain number themselves. For the Baltimore Ravens, male cheerleaders only have to buy 20, while female cheerleaders must purchase 100. All cheer teams must attempt to sell them to punters on gamedays – mostly drunk men.

“You walk by a guy and you’re afraid to get touched,” Davis said. “Every girl dreads going out there before games. We didn’t feel very important… Who would throw professional cheerleaders, walking around with cash, out with drunk fans.”

Is this illegal?

It is illegal to pay workers less than minimum wage, hence the successful cases brought forward previously by certain cheer teams. As for the rules set out in their handbook, it’s more of a grey area. While they’re not necessarily illegal, the rules are still outrageously sexist, especially in comparison to the treatment of the male football players.

But employment attorney Eric Meyer told Inc. he didn’t think the difference in rules for cheerleaders and players is illegal as they are not ‘similarly situated employees’. Essentially, at any company you’ll find employees are all treated differently – an entry-level worker is never going to receive the same perks as a company executive. Furthermore, he claims cheerleaders are well aware of the handbook, and accept the job on their own free will.

Plus, as one cheerleader put it, sometimes all the hassle is worth it for those Sundays: “The gameday experience – that’s what keeps people coming back.” They know they can be easily replaced, and that’s what keeps them in line.

What have the NFL said?

So far the organisation hasn’t commented on Davis’s situation, but in past court cases has insisted cheerleaders are employees of the team rather than the league, thus absolving itself of culpability.

As such, Leslie A. Lanusse, a lawyer representing the Saints, told the Times “The Saints organisation strives to treat all employees fairly, including Ms Davis. It is sufficient to say that Ms Davis was not subjected to discrimination because of her gender.”

The fact that the NFL are excluding themselves from this narrative and the sexist nature of these imposed rules is made so much worse when you consider that the league already has a serious ‘women problem’. They’ve struggled with a number of domestic violence reports among players: Oakland Raiders’ Gareon Conley has been accused of rape, Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Mixon was seen in a video punching a woman so hard he breaks her jaw as she falls down unconscious, and Cleveland Browns’ Caleb Brantley also punched a woman unconscious, knocking out one of her teeth in the process. All three players were drafted onto their teams last year and the NFL were aware that these events had occurred, which is a clear indication of how seriously the they take violence against women.

Davis’s allegations and the rulebook revelations don’t look good for the NFL in light of such problems within the league. Their treatment of women has been alienating to say the least – this is, after all, the organisation that knew of the domestic abuse Janay Palmer was facing at the hands of her abusive fiancée Ray Rice, but actively chose not to pursue additional information. The female cheerleaders of the NFL are fighting for their rights in an age where women are feeling confident enough to do so. But despite small victories along the way, until the league employs a more progressive stance on the women of the NFL, these cheerleaders are no doubt chasing an impossible dream.

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