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“The Occasionally Repulsive Gift That Keeps on Giving”

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The above quote is how Michael Powell describes the NFL in this Times article on the horrible treatment of the Buffalo Bills’ cheerleaders, a problem experienced by these workers through the NFL.

Supervisors ordered the cheerleaders, known as the Buffalo Jills, to warm up in a frigid, grubby stadium storeroom that smelled of gasoline. They demanded that cheerleaders pay $650 for uniforms. They told the cheerleaders to do jumping jacks to see if flesh jiggled.

The Jills were required to attend a golf tournament for sponsors. The high rollers paid cash — “Flips for Tips” — to watch bikini-clad cheerleaders do back flips. Afterward, the men placed bids on which women would ride around in their golf carts.

A not-incidental detail: The carts had no extra seats. Women clung to the back or, much more to the point, were invited to sit in the men’s laps.

For these and more humiliations, and for hundreds of hours of work and practices, Alyssa and her fellow cheerleaders on the Buffalo Jills received not a penny of wages, not from the subcontractor and certainly not from the Buffalo Bills, a team that each year makes revenue in excess of $200 million.

I’m sure if more cities would fund the stadiums of billionaire owners, they’d finally have enough to pay cheerleaders a living wage. Or, you know, any wage. The Bills are only team to pay the cheerleaders nothing, but most pay them horribly.

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  • brugroffil

    Thanks to owner Virginia McCaskey, the Chicago Bears do not have any cheerleaders.

    • witlesschum

      Nor do the Lions, supposedly due to Mrs. Ford.

      • Have they ever? Maybe they did, but if so they were not as high profile as those with some other teams.

    • patrick II

      The “Honey Bears” were disbanded at the end of the 1985 season — the last and only time the bears have won the Super Bowl. “The Curse of the Honey Bears” continues even now, with the Bears paying 16 million a year to quarterback Jay Cutler, dooming the Bears to more years of futility and embarrassment.

      • What a lot of people don’t realize is before they were sent away by the Bears, thus creating the curse, the Honey Bears were also good pitchers.

      • Bitter Scribe

        Are you sure about that? I thought they got rid of the Honey Bears just before the 1985 season.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Really? I thought the Honeybears disappeared long before they bought the team.

    • Crusty

      None for the Giants either. This allows me the moral high ground of rooting for a team without cheerleaders while still being able to ogle the cheerleaders on the opposing teams. Yet another reason being a Giants fan is so much better than rooting for the Jets.

  • TribalistMeathead

    Considering it’s 2014 and I can watch football and then my titillation of choice without leaving the house or having to set up a film projector, I’d also be fine with football teams not having cheerleaders.

  • rea

    Why on earth (and how on earth) would/could anyone do this without being paid?

    • I wonder that, looking at these assiduously perky young women on TV.

      I have to suppose that “NFL Cheerleader” is a good résumé line at least, and at best an opportunity to be “discovered.”

      • It’s a way to get on the field for an NFL game without risking traumatic brain injury.

      • Phil Perspective

        Exactly!! Why do people intern from high-profile media outlets who don’t pay shit? Because it looks good on a resume, or at least for the networking opportunity.

    • JMP

      They get paid in exposure! Really, I’d guess the teams’ excuse.

      • They are indeed largely exposed.

      • SgtGymBunny

        That’s a really time-consuming way to get exposure. Besides everybody just uses instagram and youtube nowadays to get exposure. Definitely more economical.

      • lawyernogun

        There are a handful of actresses who got their start as cheerleaders– Sarah Shahi, who plays Shaw on CBS’s wonderful Person of Interest and Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on Buffy/Angel and other roles. Googling around, though, there are so few examples of successful alumni that (i) I wonder what the modal outcome is and (ii) I wonder if, like law school, the young people going in have unrealistic expectations about how marketable their experience will be. Although, now that I think about it, burning three years of your life cheerleading is going to be less debt and a less toxic resume line than a tier 3 law degree..

        • David Nieporent

          There are a handful of actresses who got their start as cheerleaders–

          Paula Abdul (not exactly an “actress,” but someone successful in the entertainment industry) was a Laker Girl, and famously got her break that way; she was seen by the Jacksons and was asked to choreograph for them, including Janet Jackson at her peak.

          But, yeah, I’ve got to imagine that there isn’t much long-term professional value in it.

          (But the hiring standards are a lot higher than the admissions standards for a Tier 3 law school!)

          • sharculese

            David as someone who has clashed with you on numerous occasions I just wanna thank you for being informative and congenial all day long.

    • sharculese

      I assume that for a lot of them the answer is that they’ve been steeped in football culture their whole lives, maybe cheerleading since middle school, and they’re not ready to accept that this is just not an activity they can make a career of (and if we’re going to have cheerleaders, fuck yes, they should be paid) so they assume there must be sooooome way to monetize this is they can just stick it out.

      I imagine it’s similar to impulse that drives people to dog it out in touring bands for decades.

      • Bruce Leroy

        I believe almost all NFL cheeleaders have full time jobs and state that they do it because they enjoy cheerleading. In no way does that excuse the lack of payment.

        • sharculese

          I mean obviously they enjoy it, the question is, given the laundry list of bullshit they’re putting up with, how the fuck do you still enjoy that.

          • NewishLawyer

            Why do actors and musicians and other artists put up with a lot of shit and no pay sometimes?

            Because they can’t imagine doing anything else.

            For better or for worse, I could imagine doing something less and left theatre directing and the theatre world. I still miss it but I can imagine doing other things.

            • sharculese

              Yeah, that was the point of the line about touring bands.

              Also, fwiw, you and I have had this conversation before because I went through the same process you did.

      • SgtGymBunny

        The team that I looked into, made it clear that cheerleaders should have day jobs, be students, or be stay-at-home moms. I actually think they were deliberately avoiding the “professional” cheerleader altogether. So I think these women are very, very aware that they aren’t going to make a career out of it (so long as the NFL can help it).

    • Denverite

      I dated a young woman on the local pro basketball team’s dance team for a bit in college. Not sure if she was paid. She did it because she liked to dance, and there wasn’t an opportunity to do that at the college unless you were a dance major, which she didn’t want to be.

      A friend of a friend is a Bronco’s cheerleader. She reportedly does it because the team has all sorts of connections.

      • ColBatGuano

        Unfortunately, it sounds like those connections involve sitting on some creep’s lap during a golf tournament.

        • Denverite

          No clue if they are in a similar situation. I specifically asked why she did it, and her friend told me that the cheerleading team had crazy connections with employers around the area. No clue if that was true.

    • NewishLawyer

      There was a NPR (I can’t seem to find it via Google) story about this and they interviewed a woman (and now NPR reporter) who worked as a Laker Girl while in college. IIRC she would have been a Laker Girl in the late 80s/early 90s, maybe mid-90s.

      The answer is roughly the same about why actors and dancers continue to work for little or no money and put up with horrible casting notices, no respect, and bad working conditions. The answer is roughly that nothing feels the same as working under those lights and the rush of performance. The NPR reporter who did the story and interviewed the Laker Girl admitted she had a hard time understanding the appeal of cheerleading because of her background and stereotypical assumptions on cheerleading.

      IIRC the Lakers did pay better than other teams though but there were still demeaning things that needed to be done like doing routines at sketchy bars for promotions.

      • cackalacka

        It was a This American Life bit from this past summer.

        • Warren Terra

          Yeah, here.

    • patrick II

      If they ae asking Rihanna or other big stars to pay to sing at the Superbowl, I guess it is at least consistent.

      It also explains some of the 60 year old rock bands I have seen at halftime of the SuperBowl.

    • Crusty

      Have you considered the possibility that some of them enjoy it and find it fun and that some people like things that you don’t like?

      • ColBatGuano

        That’s why some of them have filed a lawsuit complaining about the conditions, because they enjoy it so much.

        • JBL

          You say this as if there’s a contradiction, but I don’t see it. It’s perfectly consistent to love doing activity X in a situation in which the only opportunities to do X come with associated terrible conditions Y. And in this setting, depending on details, one might quite reasonably be suing about Y while still loving X.

  • SgtGymBunny

    Once upon a time, I looked into perhaps trying out for the local NFL team’s cheerleading squad. If one is successfully in making the squad, one could expect to be required to attend a summer “training camp” of about 3 hours per night for a couple of nights per week (for several weeks). And when the season starts, attend all the home games, and arrive at the stadium 4-6 hours before game time. One could also expect to have to make publicity appearances every now and then. All of that would have earned a $100 per home game…

    My cost-benefit analysis is as follows: Fuck that shit!!!!

  • Warren Terra

    A few excerpts that really need to be seen together, instead of a various points in the (excellent) article:

    They demanded that cheerleaders pay $650 for uniforms.

    One hundred and fifty women paid $50 each to try out as a cheerleader, and viewed it as an honor and a thrill.

    The most they could hope for as cheerleaders, they said, were a few small tips and appearance fees here and there. Alyssa says she made $420 for more than 800 hours of work; Maria made $105.

    These excerpts don’t include all the humiliations and gropings mentioned in the article.

    Note there: the team is making something like $2000 from each cheerleader (assuming they hired a half-dozen of those people who paid $50 to apply), and that’s from the cheerleaders and aspirants directly, before they’re using their unpaid labor to make money with calendar shoots and donor events that appear to involve a lot of sexual assault.

    For this, the successful cheerleader is significantly in the hole for uniform and cosmetics expenses that outweigh a meager tip income (it’s conceivable the reported incomes are net, after all such expenses are deducted, in which case the tips might stretch to cover bus fare, if the buses are subsidized).

    Also: wealthy sexist asshats in the Buffalo area are apparently lousy tippers.

    • NewishLawyer

      There is a non-profit theatre in New York called The Flea. They are building a nice new space. They put on daring plays with great playwrights and directors. They save on money by using an unpaid and young acting company called The Bats. The Bats also need to do a few hours of office type work per a week for the Flea.

      IIRC the Flea also calls the Bats, “pre-professional” which is a lovely little euphemism.

      A lot of my performer friends seethe at The Flea and the Bats and write about why this is problematic frequently. But I suspect that the Flea will never have trouble finding a corp of actors because of collective action problems. It still makes sense for a young actor to take a position in the Flea because he or she can get reviewed in the NY Times and get noticed. You don’t get reviewed for acting in the umpteenth semi-pro, semi-community theatre revival of Burn This that is performing in a 5th floor walk-up. You are also still probably acting for free.

  • Wait, how does it go?

    It is a great opportunity for something something shitheaded comment about gold-diggers also free markets, liberty there’s plenty of people who’d want that gig arglebargle fart.

    Did I miss anything?

    • sharculese

      feminists forcing women into burqas and let’s throw in some Andrea Dworkin was fat for good measure

      • Denverite

        I once sat through Catherine MacKinnon going on for what seemed like half an hour (it was probably more like three minutes) that SHE NEVER SAID IT WAS ALL RAPE. Good times.

  • shpx.ohfu

    The Bills need to get better stooges, as the guy running the bogus front “contractor” operation willingly concedes his role. Maybe they don’t pay him, either.

    • JBL

      Yeah, that part was pretty funny. “Of course I’m just a front.”

  • Alexander OConnor

    And the reasons I hate the NFL specifically and American football generally continue to be empirically validated.

  • Murc

    I live in Bills country (Rochester basically adopts both of Buffalo’s sports teams) and I have to say I get a giddy little thrill of reminding the testosterone-soaked football boosters around here of just how badly the Jills are mistreated every time one of them brings up the cheer squad. Most of them are chagrined enough to look ashamed and immediately change the subject.

    The thrill isn’t worth the abuse they suffer, of course, and I would love to no longer be able to do it. And maybe delighting in doing that to people makes me a bad person, but fuck it, you take your kicks where you can get them.

    • I get a giddy little thrill of reminding the testosterone-soaked football boosters around here of just how badly the Jills are mistreated every time one of them brings up the cheer squad.

      This is a regular topic of conversation?

      • Murc

        Ever hung out with enthusiastic football nerds? They pride themselves about knowing everything about everything their favorite team does and sharing that information.

        Also, sometimes people just comment explicitly on the physical attributes of the cheer squad.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Worst of all, to be Jills meant most of them had to live near Buffalo.

    • mikeSchilling

      And watch the Bills play. The rest of it is at worst a minor annoyance

    • John not McCain

      As the recent Wrath of God incident showed us, living near Buffalo is considerably worse than living in Buffalo.

  • Marek

    I have long felt sorry for the sad-sack Buffalo Bills, with their superb owl losses. No more.

  • mikeSchilling

    I know people who throw away literally thousands of dollars so they can spend their weekends peddling a bicycle for miles and miles when for far less money they could be enjoying themselves instead

  • But…but…think of the exposure they get!

    Also the pneumonia! And frostbite!

  • Bitter Scribe

    Every time I see one of those “Best Cheerleader Costume FAILS!!!!” clickbait things, I think, Yeah, buddy, let’s put you out there wearing practically nothing, make you dance and twist around, and then sneer when the wisp of fabric covering your genitalia slips.

  • les

    The treatment of the Jills by the Bills is beyond shabby; but the “why would these cheerleaders do such a thing” is pretty easy, really. I have a daughter, currently a college junior and considering trying out for the KC Chiefs’ squad. She gets the no money/shabby treatment/high requirements thing, but:

    From age (about) 8 or 9 through high school, she was a competitive dancer; she danced at local, regional, national competitions all over the country, mostly running Friday through Sunday. She had classes and rehearsals 4 or more times a week, hours per day. She moved through dance studios as talent and work ethic permitted, ending up highly successful. If you haven’t been there, you can’t begin to imaging the work and talent it takes to get to a national competition where over a week you perform in 10 to 15 dance numbers, multiple times, and be judged the best performers. As you might guess, the process cost thousands per year.

    Why, you say? She loved to dance and choreograph, like other athletes love their sport.

    After high school–if you’re not a pro, the opportunities for dance performance are about nil. She’s a dance minor at school–itself a difficult, competitive program to get into–but that leads to maybe 2 or 3 performance opportunities.

    So–a hard job for shabby pay, arrived at through strenuous competition with numerous talented people, that lets her perform something she loves in front of big crowds?

    Gee, why would anybody do that?

    • I dunno. Lemme go ask the barista who has a one-man play up off-off-off-off-off-Broadway now.

      • les

        Well, you got it completely wrong. Not your usual style, but…she’s not shopping for (mythical) contacts, she’s not telling anyone that in real life she’s a pro dancer. She’s looking for a chance to do something she loves, as she studies for her masters in special ed. Dick.

    • Bitter Scribe

      Seriously, thank you. That’s an excellent perspective that probably no one but a parent could offer. You’re properly supportive, but I’m sure that as a parent, you would find the gratuitous humiliations outlined in the Times article especially outrageous.

      • les

        Yeah, I’d have really mixed feelings about it. Maybe I could get her to agitate for a union.

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