For NFL Cheerleaders, Rigid Rules Are Sculpting

For NFL Cheerleaders, Rigid Rules Are Sculpting

By JESSICA BENNETT, New York Times

Forty years ago this month, a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader described the event as “as tough as an open-call Broadway show,” with 150 women—”envied, celebrated and sought after.” ” in the world — shivering in an air-conditioned room.

The women spoke of hunger and starvation that had lasted for weeks. The visitor, a reporter for the New York Times, noted that the miners were paid nothing: $15 per game ($14.72 after taxes). They had a strict training schedule – up to five hours a night, five nights a week – and could not appear where alcohol was served, go to parties of any kind or wear their jewelery and uniforms.

“A Cowboys cheerleader, above all else, is beautiful,” the article said at a time when the team was the top show in the NFL. “A large measure of swelling or attractiveness” had to be done.

Four decades later, the world may have changed, but the rules of professional cheerleading remain the same. And yet as the NFL grapples with domestic violence and sexual assault allegations — and legions of women declare #MeToo — a kind of feminist awakening may be emerging in the cheerleading world, with some questioning strict and seemingly sexist rules. accompany on a professional level.

That question is happening even as hundreds of women are entering cheerleading auditions this week for several NFL teams. At team practices, they’ll be seen in crop tops, skin-colored nylons and hot pants with “perfect hair and makeup,” as books such as the Arizona Cardinals instruct.

They will be judged on their style, presentation and stability, but also their appearance, like most of the programs that put it. They will know that “the skinny guy is our favorite in our uniform,” according to the Cowboys’ scouting guide.

If those women are lucky, they join teams with names like the Ben-gals (that’s Cincinnati’s Bengals), the Raiderettes (Oakland), the Falconettes (Atlanta) and the Saintsations (New Orleans). They will be given a rule book that prohibits them from socializing with the players, and, in some cases, overthinking, or chewing gum.

Most of them will still be interested in the activity: the camaraderie, the fandom and the technical skills – yes, the skills; Most NFL cheerleaders are trained athletes – which is a requirement for the job.

“There’s nothing quite like it in terms of speed,” said Flavia Berys, who cheered for the San Diego Chargers from 2000 to 2002 and has published several books about cheerleader-audition secrets. “You feel all the energy of every fan in that stadium.”

“It was an instant sister,” said Toni Washington, who was a Cowboys tour guide and writer in the 1980s.

However, there is evidence of disbelief, starting with the case of 22-year-old ex-New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis, who was fired in January for posting a photo on Instagram of her in a lace bodysuit, which was. violation of social media group rules. In response, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the NFL of having two policies: one for cheerleaders, who are almost all women, and one for its players, who are men.

“I’m not doing enough to control everything in my life outside of the Superdome,” Davis said. Most NFL cheerleaders are paid as little as $75 a game, with additional fees for appearances; had he remained on the team, Davis would have made $10.25 an hour, or $3 above the minimum wage in Louisiana. – Back and in High Heels

Davis’ story isn’t the first to highlight the NFL’s gender inequality. Since the 1970s, the National Organization for Women picked the Cowboys’ cheerleader tryouts and feminists denounced cheerleaders as “sexist tools,” as The Times once reported.

The Chicago Bears disbanded their cheerleading team, the “Honey Bears,” in 1985, after the daughter of owner George Halas, one of the original NFL founders, inherited the team. (Halas had announced that “as long as I’m alive, we’ll have girls to dance with.” Virginia Halas McCaskey took over upon her death.)

In recent years, former cheerleaders have sued the NFL over the payments. In 2016, the New York Jets agreed to pay their cheerleaders about $325,000 in back pay, while the Oakland Raiders agreed to a $1.25 million settlement with the Raiderettes. Among the six NFL teams without cheerleaders is the Buffalo Bills, whose cheer team was fired following a class-action suit over pay. One of the six is ​​the New York Giants, whose co-owner John Mara noted that “philosophically, we’ve always had problems with sending scantily clad women out on the field to please our fans.”

Margery Evan, radio host, said it best in a recent column for The Boston Globe. “It’s time to rethink NFL fans and their bare breasts being sidelined by drunk men with binoculars,” he wrote. “It’s a shame for all of us. Or it should be.”

To make it in a man’s world, the saying goes, women must do everything men do, but backwards and in high heels. For NFL cheerleaders, there’s another twist: They have to stand on the sidelines, in high heels, cheering on men for little money in a world where players make millions and even mascots make up to $65 a year.

As reported by The Times and others, the rules imposed on cheerleaders are reminiscent of another era – full of weights, mandatory manicures, advice on the correct use of tampons and advice on how to respond respectfully to prying or harassment by fans. If one were to read through the rule books of the 1960s era of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy clubs – rules designed for female servers called “babes” – they would find a striking similarity: Benches were given “improper” chewing gum, dirty nails or impurity. hair. But even they got salary and benefits.

“What’s really hard about being an NFL cheerleader is that not only do you have to be a trained athlete but you have to look good while doing it,” Davis said. “You have to wear three inch heels while doing it. Your makeup should be perfect, you should always smile, even if you are just standing there. “

“It’s twofold,” said Kate Mayfield, 37, a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader who is a hedge fund manager. “They explain to us the existing rules so that we don’t get into trouble, because the league will be protecting the player if something happens. Because the players are, when it comes down to it, the most important, even when we are on the field. I don’t think I asked myself back then. I was 22 years old.”

A 2012 Raiders etiquette handbook reviewed by The Times instructs cheerleaders to “sit like a lady — cross your legs or cross your legs but keep your legs together.” The Bengals’ rulebook, introduced as part of the offense in 2014, said “3 lb weight gain” “no chewing” “no sliding breasts.”

The two teams said last week that the rule books had been revised but did not say anything.

“For me, and many of my colleagues, the real killer was body dysmorphia and eating disorders, and the stress and anxiety that comes from that,” said Lyndsey Raucher, a college student who cheered for the New England Patriots from 2016 to 2017. “I’m afraid I’ll never be the same.” – ‘Separating Character’

Cheerleading began as a men’s sport – “one of the most important things a boy can take from college,” as The Nation said in 1911. At least five presidents – Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes – were supporters of the college, as were other politicians such as Rick Perry , Tom DeLay and Mitt Romney.

It was at the end of World War II that men with megaphones began to be replaced by young, beautiful women with pom-poms, as sociologist Lisa Wade has written. In part, it was because cheerleading was one of the few ways women could participate in college sports before Title IX, the federal law passed in 1972 that mandated equal access, said Laura Grindstaff, a professor at the University of California, Davis. .

In the years since then, two different types of cheerleading have emerged: the competitive version, which is often written and more like gymnastics – full of difficult tumbling exercises, throwing baskets and human pyramids – and side cheerleading, or dancing, which is in the NFL. it is full of women. (The Ravens have male-only men on their cheerleading squad, while the Los Angeles Rams announced the addition of two men last month, both trained in cheerleading.)

“This is an event that has a very divisive nature,” said Kate Torgovnick May, author of “Cheer!: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders.” “On the one hand you have this gymnasium, for sports. They are performing acrobatic skills in the air. And then you have this other part, the side things, this leading-the-crowd, these little clothes, and these kind of charged looks that go with it. More about the page. And I don’t mean to say that this isn’t a real dance – it really is – but something different. “

It was that kind of cheerleading, with hot pants and boots to go, that came from the Cowboys of that era of the 1970s – and especially from Suzanne Mitchell, who managed the team for more than a decade. “She was the god of modern cheerleading,” said filmmaker Dana Adam Shapiro, whose documentary about the Cowboys cheerleaders, “Girls of the Sexual Revolution,” premiered last month at South by Southwest.

The breakout moment for the Dallas team came in 1976, during Super Bowl X, when a TV cameraman, looking for what was known as the “honey shot,” headed to the sideline and a player named Gwenda winked at the camera. Suddenly, the world “forgot there was a football game going on,” as Cowboys writer Joe Nick Patoski put it — confirming what Tex Schramm, Cowboys president and general manager, had been predicting: the buzz.

Under Mitchell’s leadership, the Cowboys cheerleaders appeared on the cover of Esquire, were featured in the “Love Boat” TV series and were famously featured, without permission, in the 1978 pornographic film “Debbie Do Dallas.” (There were three Debbies on the team at the time, according to Shapiro’s report. But none of them were that Debbie.)

Mitchell’s rules, however, became famous: No relationships. No chewing gum. No jeans. You shouldn’t wear curlers in public. Weigh-ins were common, and he sometimes rotated the cheerleaders’ body parts in pictures to show where he had to weigh. “Your shorts hooked you up, and they kept saying, ‘We’re going to take them but we’re not going to take them out,'” said Washington, now 57. “It was like graduation.”

But there was a dark side to it as well. In the articles, former Cowboys cheerleaders described stalkers who sent letters, followed them and called them at home — as part of the reason why many NFL cheerleaders today are prohibited from using their full names.

“Most fans are respectful, but there’s always the odd fan here and there who seems to think cheerleaders are just there to be things,” said Berys, the writer, referring to her experience as a cheerleader from 2000 to 2002.

Davis, for his part, doesn’t believe that NFL cheerleading should be completely eliminated — but that the NFL needs to adapt to the times.

“This is unusual,” Davis said. “I just think nobody knew how badly we were treated.”

What are the requirements to be a NFL cheerleader?

What are the requirements to be a NFL cheerleader?

What little ones are worth trying? You must be 18 by May 1, 2021 to try. You must also have a high school diploma or GED. Read also : A cash-strapped NYC cheer team heads to nationals. You must also have a part-time job, a full-time job, be a full-time student, or have a family.

How long can you be an NFL cheerleader? But there is a short period of time for women to become professional entertainers, usually in their mid-20s to mid-30s, but for a long time. The average stay is three years, but I know several women who have enjoyed ten.

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Is it hard to become an NFL cheerleader?

Being a professional cheerleader is truly rewarding and unforgettable. This may interest you : O-Zone: Speak the truth. This position is prestigious (not to mention thousands of women audition for a few, coveted spots) and it takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and preparation on a physical, mental, and emotional level.

How much does an NFL cheerleader make? According to information from various data sources, the average NFL cheerleader salary is $150 per game day. They also receive up to $50 – $75 for public appearances. The role of the celebrants is similar to the performance. To get delicious and hot activities, they had to go through many things.

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