‘A Culture of Fear’: Inside a Shocking Movie About How Cheerleaders Are Treated

Maria Pinzone thought she had landed her dream job when, in 2012, she auditioned for the Jills, the cheer team for her beloved hometown NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. Pinzone had long dreamed of cheering in the NFL, but as the season progressed parts of the job began to make her uneasy. The job required hours upon hours of training and dozens of community events, all unpaid. The Bills earned more than $250 million as an organization that year, but Pinzone had to pay $650 for her uniform and was paid just $105 for 840 hours of work.

Pinzone left the team in 2013. When another Jill confided the same concerns about their compensation, Pinzone took her contract to an attorney. The meeting in late 2013 “almost felt like a confession of prayer”, she told the Guardian. Something felt off about the contract – the Bills’ mascots, concession workers, janitors and cleaning staff were all paid for their work and time, but the cheerleaders in the same stadium every week were not. But doubt crept in. “Am I crazy?” she thought. “Here I was signing on to be an NFL cheerleader — such a high-prestige job,” she said, “it just never occurred to me that there could be anything wrong with that contract.”

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem, a documentary completed in 2019 and now available on demand, examines the context of Pinzone’s lawsuit and traces the long-running, hard-won effort by cheerleaders across the league to force the NFL to compensate the most visible. female employees. Since Pinzone, one of two former cheerleaders joined by filmmaker Yu Gu in seeking compensation for minimum wage and legal fees, and four teammates filed a lawsuit against the Jills, their managers and the Bills in 2014, the NFL, which generated over $15 billion in revenue in 2019, has come under increased scrutiny for widespread underpayment, restrictive contracts and mistreatment of the cheerleaders. Ten of the 26 NFL teams with cheerleaders have since faced lawsuits alleging wage theft, sexual harassment, body shaming, hostile work environments, criminally low wages (some as low as $2.85 an hour) and “blatant discrimination.”

But back in 2014, few were talking publicly about fair pay for cheerleaders, a decades-long staple of the NFL whose traditional 1960s “volunteer” position barely matched the league’s wealth, visibility and professionalism. Highly competitive NFL cheer squads developed their own schemes that justified maximum training and minimal pay – speak out or challenge loyalty to the football team and you’re benched. “It happened over such a long period of time, and this culture of fear was really instilled in the cheerleaders from day one,” Gu told the Guardian. “It was such a big barrier to overcome.” That was, until Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields, an Oakland “Raiderette” originally from Sulphur, Louisiana, and the film’s other subject, filed a class action lawsuit in early 2014.

Like Pinzone, lithe and preternaturally bubbly, Thibodeaux-Fields has long dreamed of becoming a professional cheerleader—by the time she joined the Raiderettes in 2013, Thibodeaux-Fields had put in 10,560 hours over 18 years of dance training, an effort calculated to screen in A Woman’s Work. The NFL didn’t reward that expertise, and the terms of the job were untenable: The Raiderettes weren’t paid until the end of the season, nine months after they began training. Thibodeaux-Fields was expected to pay for the required hair, nails and spray tan at $225 a pop and, all told, was paid less than $5 an hour for her work, including eight-hour shifts.

Gu first heard about Thibodeaux-Fields’ lawsuit in the Los Angeles Times while studying at the University of Southern California. Born in China and raised in Vancouver, Gu was familiar with cheerleading stereotypes but confused by America’s soccer-obsessed culture. Stripped of the American myth used by teams to justify low wages—that cheering in the NFL was a privilege, that sisterhood and prestige were worth more than money, that it brought visibility and always had—Thibodeaux-Fields’ good thing. , “a way to understand some of the core mythologies of American culture”, Gu told the Guardian.

A Woman’s Work observes Thibodeaux-Fields and Pinzone over the course of five years, as the lawsuits and their echoes—the hurtful gossip on Facebook groups, the recognition of widespread problems across the league, the slow unlearning of “lucky to be here” gaslighting, the way Recognizing it reshapes one’s entire worldview—intertwined with their daily lives, at times poignantly personal. Gus’s camera finds Thibodeaux-Fields on the floor with her children, overwhelmed by childcare and too frail to talk to her husband after work. We stare from the passenger seat of Pinzone, days after she lost her mother – her own best friend and biggest cheerleader – to cancer, as she melts into tears in her car.

The film’s unvarnished, lawsuit-related footage shows “the consequences, the consequences, of being mistreated in the workplace, of being underpaid or undervalued,” Gu said. Without a Raiderette salary, Thibodeaux-Fields was dependent on following her husband’s job and providing childcare for their growing family. Maria balanced the stress and timing of the lawsuit with her accounting career and primary care for her mother.

Thibodeaux-Fields eventually reached a settlement with the Raiders, but Pinzone’s case, a class-action suit along with 73 other Jills (60 more opted out) that eventually included the NFL as a defendant, dragged on and remains in a tense stalemate. Days after the lawsuit was filed, the Bills shut down the Jills, unceremoniously ending a nearly 50-year-old program. “I just couldn’t believe they did that and turned it on us, so we became the bad guys,” Pinzone said. “It was very difficult to navigate through. At one point in the film, the defendants offer a low-ball settlement agreement rather than pay reasonable back wages. “The fact that they thought we would accept something so low shows what they think of us: that we don’t is something,” Pinzone says over footage of her accompanying her father to a doctor’s appointment.

The NFL, for all its recent work to address sexism and racism in the league, and the 2016 “women’s summit” held in the wake of the league’s domestic violence scandal, has sought to address cheerleader compensation at the league level. Contracts and payment for the cheerleading squads remain at the discretion of individual teams and their owners. In Gus’ view, the league “doesn’t justify” the practical approach to safe and fair working environment for cheerleaders, “I think because they feel they don’t have to justify it,” she said. Cheerleaders or no, fair pay or not, people still want to watch football. “Because the league’s stance is that it’s each team’s responsibility, there’s just a lack of consistent rules and guidelines across the different teams, and there’s a lack of transparency and communication between the different teams,” Gu explained.

Still, she added, it was “heartening” to see teams change their policies in the wake of several lawsuits — the Raiderettes have changed their contract to comply with labor laws, and California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who appears in the film, introduced legislation specifically targeting to protect professional cheerleaders.

Some teams have “realized that these women are an asset to their organization and they should be compensated for that,” Pinzone said. Although she “had no idea when we signed up” how long the lawsuit, delayed by the bankruptcy of one defendant and the pandemic, would continue, Pinzone hopes for a resolution this year. “We’re just going to keep moving forward,” she said, “and hope that once this is settled, that they’ll bring back the Jills as well and do it the right way.”

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem is now available to rent digitally in the US with a UK date yet to be announced

Why does NFL have cheerleaders?

Cheerleaders are a popular attraction that can give a team more coverage/airtime, popular local support and increased media exposure. In 1954, the Baltimore Colts became the first NFL team to have cheerleaders. See the article : Terrorists are not good journalists. They were part of Baltimore’s Marching Colts. Most NFL cheerleading teams are a part-time job.

Do NFL cheerleaders get paid? But they are not so well financially rewarded. According to various reports, a professional NFL cheerleader can earn around $75,000 a year. But a supporting cheerleader is only paid about $20,000 a year. Professional cheerleaders are paid around $15-20 an hour.

Which NFL teams have no cheerleaders? So what are NFL teams without cheerleaders? There are seven football teams without an NFL cheerleading team: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, LA Chargers, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.

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How are cheerleaders treated in the NFL?

Ten of the 26 NFL teams with cheerleaders have since faced lawsuits alleging wage theft, sexual harassment, body shaming, hostile work environments, criminally low wages (some as low as $2. This may interest you : How Much Do NBA Cheerleaders Earn?….85 an hour) and “blatant discrimination.”


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