It is no secret that gender inequality is a common issue in American society, especially in the workplace. This issue is not limited to certain industries, including sports, where professional leagues like the NFL are on the forefront of culture.
On March 25, The New York Times released a story detailing the firing of New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis. Davis claims she was fired for posting a picture of herself in a one-piece outfit to her Instagram, which is against team rules. The rule prohibits cheerleaders from appearing nude, partially nude or wearing lingerie on social media. Another rule says the football players are allowed to interact with the cheerleaders, but that the cheerleaders must block every player on social media and avoid interacting with players. In essence, the players can approach the cheerleaders, but the cheerleaders cannot do the same.
Davis has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging the Saints set a different standard of rules for the all-male football team and all-female cheerleading squad.
Another New York Times report on April 2 described the treatment of another team’s cheerleaders, the Carolina Panthers, and the sexist workplace environment they endure. Cheerleaders for the Panthers must remove or cover all piercings and tattoos and leave the stadium after games to change into their personal clothes.
Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders, meanwhile, are required to weigh themselves regularly and “maintain ideal body weight,” while cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals had to stay within three pounds of their “ideal weight.”
Above all, some NFL cheerleaders make as little as $1,000 a year, despite being an integral part of many team’s game day experience, according to USA Today. This is disgraceful, especially considering the NFL took in around $14 billion of revenue in 2017, according to Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal.
It is not difficult to see why women, specifically cheerleaders in the NFL, are seeing their treatment as cases of sexism with a clear lack of accountability by teams. Naturally, men greatly outnumber the women in an NFL workplace as the constantly evolving team roster includes 53 men alone, in addition to any practice squad players. Although many team employees are women, the coaching staffs are entirely made up of men, outside of one female full-time assistant in the San Francisco 49ers organization who was hired last summer.
With such little female representation in the workplace, the NFL fails to recognize the dominant masculine culture it has created. This is another sign of the consistent ignorance among NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell.
There is no doubt the NFL will receive heavy scrutiny for their treatment of cheerleaders throughout the years, and rightfully so. The culture that has grown and persisted within league offices for years is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by league officials any longer.
As an integral part of American culture, the NFL is responsible for setting a high moral standard for itself, something it has failed to do. It will take years before women are given equal opportunities as men to become a coach or work in a league office, but that does not excuse teams for treating the women they currently employ to different standards.
To pay cheerleaders a fair wage in addition to enacting sensible and responsible workplace rules should not be too much to ask from a billion-dollar enterprise, and rectifying this issue would be a big step forward for women in the league.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.