The Jiggle Test: NFL fails its cheerleaders

AP Photo/Gary Wiepert

The Buffalo Jills, cheerleaders for the NFL's Bills, suspended operations after five women filed a lawsuit over compensation.

The Buffalo Jills have suspended operations in the wake of a lawsuit filed by five members of the cheerleading squad. There are probably going to be a few people who blame the litigation, but that would be a mistake.

Buffalo is the third team to face a suit alleging cheerleaders were not compensated fairly, faced demeaning treatment and had fines and penalties deducted from their already paltry paychecks for things like costumes, grooming and lateness. The squad actually is outsourced to a management team, Stejon Productions Corp., which suspended operations.

Women who cheered for Cincinnati and Oakland have also filed suits over their compensation.The suit against the Raiders prompted a federal probe into wages but resulted in no action against the team.

If you read through the allegations however, it's difficult to imagine anyone thought it was a good idea to control so much of an employee's life -- Instagram accounts, personal hygiene, numerous unpaid requirements -- for a couple of thousand bucks a season at most.

AP Photo/Bill Wippert

Cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills allege, among other complaints, they were given a "jiggle test" to assess their body firmness.

Cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills allege, among other complaints, they were given a "jiggle test" to assess their body firmness.

The Jills' suit alleges cheerleaders were expected to show up to some events in bikinis, where they were sold at "auction" and accompanied their buyer around the golf course, sometimes riding on a lap if the golf cart was full. The Jills even were allegedly subjected to a "jiggle test" to make sure they were trim enough to jiggle -- in the "right" way -- on game day.

Creepy? Absolutely. Illegal? That's for the courts to decide. But to do it under the NFL banner -- even though the squads are operated independently -- is another image problem for a league that puts a premium on not tarnishing the shield.

The NFL has had to deal with concussion lawsuits and a number of off-the-field incidents this year, including a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator after allegedly assaulting her. An apparently pervasive devaluation of work done by the most visible women in the league does not bolster the NFL's image.

NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said the league doesn't comment on ongoing litigation, but that it is following developments.

There are plenty of reasons to join a cheerleading squad -- friendship, camaraderie, a love of dancing, personal validation, starting a modeling portfolio -- but none of those reasons should be seen as a substitute for wages.

When I was 16, I got my first job busing tables at a Chinese restaurant. I loved that job, and at the end of every shift we communally ate dishes like bone soup, stuff that wasn't on the menu. My world expanded from Lincoln, Neb., to the other side of the globe. The benefits I got went way beyond a paycheck and I knew in my heart I'd have done that job for free.

But no one expected me to. There are plenty of jobs people love to do, but they are still jobs. That means the work has value and they get paid. Taking advantage of someone who loves their job isn't cool, whether you are the House of Hunan or the NFL, but it's a lot more offensive in the NFL because of the money generated by the cheerleaders for the team.

Swimsuit calendars, appearances ... click bait all over team websites. The sexualized images generated by NFL cheerleaders are all over the place. Somebody's making money or they wouldn't be dangled out there.

Maybe you think agreeing to one kind exploitation -- those uniforms are pretty unambiguous -- means you open yourself up to another, and you could easily ask why the cheerleaders haven't complained about the wages before.

In fact, teams have many more women try out for these jobs than they can hire. But it's not something the NFL's teams should be exploiting.

Not every NFL team has a cheerleading squad. The Giants are one of the handful of teams who held out because, spokesperson Pat Hanlon said, "We simply have never felt it was appropriate to our game presentation. Our attitude has always been that people come to the game to see the game."

Really, the NFL interacts with women in just a few ways. There are cheerleaders, and there is the breast cancer awareness campaign. (It wouldn't take Sigmund Freud long to break that dichotomy down.)

It turns out both of those programs are relatively cheap. The individual teams or management companies run the cheerleading squads, while the NFL itself is involved in donating less than 10 percent of pink merchandise proceeds to charity, according to a Business Insider report.

If the NFL wants to show it values these women who love what goes along with being a cheerleader, it can pay them a wage that is more commensurate with the work they put in by creating some standards for the teams that have squads. At the start would be an hourly wage and reimbursements for all costs associated with the job. The system of fines should be eliminated. Women shouldn't be expected to attend unpaid events, and they shouldn't be treated like commodities once there.

The Jills disbanding rather than addressing these inequities isn't the fault of the women who pressed for better treatment. It's an opportunity for the NFL to set guidelines that make these women feel like part of their NFL team.

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