The Dark Reality Of NFL Cheerleading | Shady | Refinery29

The Dark Reality Of NFL Cheerleading | Shady | Refinery29

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Anyone can learn a move, right? Like when you’re walking you can lift up
that knee and point that toe. You know make it sassy—Yes! Like sassy! Sassy! Lexy’s got sass, Lexy’s all sass. This is Kristan Ann Ware. Sassy, I’m whipping it, sassy! She knew joining the Miami Dolphins meant
having the perfect hair, body, and smile. But she wasn’t prepared for what else she’d
have to face. They say you’re only special in the
uniform, your opinion doesn’t matter, your voice doesn’t matter, you’re here to perform
and that’s it. They intimidate you into silence—but, I
mean, you want to be a cheerleader. It’s the best job in the world. Cheerleading. An iconic American pastime. Some love it, others think it’s an image-obsessed
second-rate sport. It’s a topic far removed from my day-to-day
as Refinery29’s senior beauty editor. But growing up as a soccer player, they were
always of the periphery. What I looked like on the field never mattered,
but I’m here today to learn how in cheerleading, it could mean the difference of whether or
not you make the team. So there’s a big difference in this,
it’s pretty. Sideline Prep is a pro-cheer consulting company
and Genienne Samuels is its leader. Teaching the tricks of the trade from her
11-year run as a professional cheerleader. What’s most important: definitely nutrition
and fitness, and then just don’t sleep on the importance of your appearance. But when did appearance become so important
to pro cheer? Cheerleading in the early 1900s was a male-only
activity at elite Ivy League schools. During World War II, women took over when
the men left to fight, stepping it up with gymnastics and acrobatics. It was in the 1970s that Dallas Cowboy owner,
Tex Schramm, saw a lucrative opportunity to boost ticket sales by making cheerleading
all about sex appeal. Skin tight outfits, suggestive dance moves
and a beauty queen look became a must. Today, professional cheer is as much about
image as it is about dance. For these women it’s all part of the game,
just as important as putting in long hours at the gym and mastering moves. We work so hard for years just for one audition. It’s about the experience, it’s about
the sisterhood. I love the glam. I love the feeling of putting on my makeup
and getting my hair done and going to dance and seeing myself in the mirror. I just love it. From their moves to their makeup, every last
detail is considered. Whatever it takes to land a coveted spot on
a team of their dreams. Women want to become professional cheerleaders
to basically extend their life of a passion that they already have. Professional level is the next step for them. Yay! That was so good! But recent headlines are shining new light
on to this dream, revealing just how vulnerable it is to exploitation. A new lawsuit against the Raiders. Two Raiderettes say that they were humiliated
and groped. They’re not even paid for quite a bit of
the work that they do. An entire reform on how professional cheerleaders
are treated is long overdue. She and her lawyer are calling on the NFL
to do more to protect cheerleaders. Kristan Ann Ware is currently filing a claim against the NFL and her former Miami Dolphin’s cheer
team for discrimination based on her gender and religious beliefs. She says that once her team discovered her
vow to wait for marriage, coaches started singling her out and attacking her. It all came to a head in her third season
interview. Usually in the interviews they talk about
your dance technique, you know, how you are in choreography, what they expect of you,
and things like that, and nothing of my job was talked about during that interview. And I went in and sat down and the first thing
that the director mentioned was, “let’s talk about your vow to wait for marriage.” I was, I don’t know, I remember the feeling—
of sitting there kind of like, my palms started to sweat, your knee caps start to shake, your
heart’s pounding because something in me told me, this isn’t right. What happened after your interview? They asked me to change into a bikini to see if I was calendar ready. Which was usual. It was never a problem
before, but just the fact that I felt like I was attacked for something so personal and
so valuable to me, and to then have to change into a bikini and stand in front of them—I
mean, it took a piece of me. I remember looking in the mirror and just
saying, “Kristan, you can leave, you can walk out right now.” And I didn’t. Kristan Ann was used to being critiqued on
her appearance, it was part of the job. For her, what crossed the line was feeling
disrespected and degraded, and she’s not alone. This kind of treatment is pervasive across
the country. Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans sensation
says she was kicked off the team for an Instagram photo deemed too sexy. Members of the 2013 Washington Redskins cheer
team reported being forced to post pose topless at a photoshoot while male sponsors watched. And former Houston Texans cheerleader, Gabriella Davis, alleges that she and her teammates were called “crack whores” and “jelly bellies.” I have not spoken to a cheerleader, not one,
where they didn’t tell me that they were told all the time that they are not special,
that they are just a girl in a uniform and there’s a million girls that would take
their place. Sara Blackwell is a lawyer representing Kristan
Ann, along with several other former pro-cheerleaders who are taking on the NFL. It sounds to me like they just want to completely
control them. They have a lot of control over these women
and the way they get it is by belittling them and making them feel worthless. You are told that you are only here to be
seen and never heard. Your opinion doesn’t matter, your voice
doesn’t matter, you’re completely replaceable. Why would they say things like that? I think it’s the ownership and
the control they want to have over you. Not only when you’re in the uniform and you’re at your job, but when you’re away from it. Sara gave me access to some of the cheerleaders’
handbooks and rules. I saw guidelines for everything. Love life, social media, and appearance. The rules for dealing with players reveal
a clear double standard, cheerleaders are told to avoid players at all costs. But the players are free to do what they want. This is extreme gender discrimination, and
players can go anywhere they want, they can text the cheerleaders, they can call the cheerleaders,
they can follow the cheerleaders on social media, but if the cheerleaders even accept
their request they can be immediately terminated. They say it’s for the girls’ protection,
which is sad, because we’re not in the 1950s here. Perhaps the best indicator of how much they’re valued is how much they’re paid. I used to be a Cincinnati Bengal, but I was
paid more being a dancing cupcake than an NFL cheerleader. It didn’t take long for Alexa Brenneman,
now Wesendorf, a two-season cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, to realize she was
being taken advantage of. You’re expected to pay for your nails, you’re
expected to pay for your hair, you’re going to have to have a gym membership, stay in shape. But we were paid around $100 per game. I added up our practices, our trainings, our
appearances, our events and then divided those hours and it’s less than $3.00 an hour. Alexa filed a lawsuit against the Cincinnati
Bengals and in 2015 the team finally agreed to back pay and to raise salaries to meet
minimum wage. As these lawsuits come about, women are starting
to be paid minimum wage and things are starting to change. Alexa’s case shows that it’s possible
to take on the NFL and win. Still, there’s a long way to go. Today, what cheerleaders are paid is less
than the players and in many cases less than the mascots, less than the concession stand
workers. I was curious to know what GeNienne Samuels,
as a professional cheer veteran, thought of everything I’d learned. A lot of cheerleaders that we’ve spoken
to have said one of the things that kept them quiet was this idea of, you’re easily replaceable,
I can have a girl in here by tomorrow. The concept of feeling as though you are easily
replaceable is valid, I think for pro cheer. It’s also valid as a reporter, as an anchor,
but I think that it’s less of a fear and just part of reality. And I would hope that women don’t allow
that reality to hinder them speaking up and voicing concerns or problems that they may
encounter. Cheerleading has been my life. As a child it was my outlet. We’re in it because we love it, because
we’re dancers, and we love the sisterhood. There are so many younger girls
that look up to me, I just want to set the tone for them and show them that this is an
attainable dream for them. While some have used the lawsuits as part
of a bigger argument to end pro cheerleading, the women leading the charge see an opportunity
for something else. A chance to be included in the conversation. I’m just speaking out to make a positive
difference for the NFL, not to bash the NFL. What it’s gonna take is a team of women
that are going to stand up together and say, we’re not going to tolerate this
any longer. What do you hope happens with the NFL? They need to say, “I hear you,” to the cheerleaders and “we’re gonna take effective and real steps to make this a very professional and
lawful environment.” And if their voices are heard it could transform
the sport into something that’s truly worth cheering for. Thanks for watching Refinery29. For more videos like this, click here. And to subscribe, click here.

100 comments

  1. It pisses me off when people think cheer isn't a sport. 54% of concussion rates in female sports is from cheer.

  2. Never been a fan of the NFL and never will be. This just shows how major corporations just simply don't give a crap about anything.

  3. I have no interest in spectator sports and cheerleading. Cheerleading always seemed like a very sexist, unnecessary and a breeding ground for sexual exploits. However, I see the value in cheerleading as a career opportunity for gymnasts and dancers. Both fields are highly competitive. It's hard to find work and make good money.

  4. I was on a drill team in high school and its been a couple years since I have graduated but I watched this video and it was crazy how much of this I could relate to. As a teenage girl who is figuring things out and trying to find myself and find a self confidence and inner beauty as well as comfort in the outside. We were told that we're not special, that other girls would gladly take our spots in a heart beat and to an extent I believed it, it is true ,there were other girls that wanted the spots and we were were lucky to have the opportunity to be on the team, but by no means were we not special. each and every one of us were incredible and amazing and did not deserve to be told otherwise. None of us had a voice either, I get that there is a line of respect that the coaches should be shown, but if i have something to tell you and I respectfully tell you that in the correct time and place then there should be a respectful reply. To tell us we should be grateful and at the same time we were not special was absolute crap. We auditioned and made the team, we auditioned for every single performance even as simple as a pep rally. And reminder this was just a high school team nothing more. We all put in the long practice hours every morning and evening. God forbid we had to miss a practice for something actually important like family or health or other school things we would be punished and not even given a chance to make up the missed time no matter how dedicated we were

  5. It’s about selling sex appeal. This is not news and it shouldn’t be surprising. Also not surprising that they’re being taken advantage of. Terrible but not surprising

  6. My thing. If you don’t agree with the rules. If you don’t believe in what goes on. Then why do you go back. Why not go get another job

  7. all of us cheerleaders got triggered at 2:01 when she said gymnastics and not tumbling 😂😰🤭🤣

  8. Cheerleaders made their money from sponsorship events, posing & taking photos. They make a good amount. But I feel like they should also be paid minimum wage from the NFL, one of the richest companies in the world.

  9. 1st: there is a MASSIVE difference between pro cheerleading and competitive cheerleading. 2nd: Speaking as someone who has experience in both, this video is the absolute truth. Thanks for shedding some light on this ongoing issue.

  10. Wat does Vow to marriage mean? (If dats even wat she said, i didn't rlly understand those wrds)
    Can som1 explain dis to me

  11. I wrote a business law paper about this. I feel this applies to women working in sports as well, in some aspects. The player fraternization policies get really weird and specific with some organizations and it’s really frustrating being a girl. Getting in trouble for talking too long to a player or them following you, even being friends with them like you are friends with your coworkers.

  12. These are dancers/pom pom cheerleaders. Then there’s cheerleaders who STUNT. They’re two very different types of cheerleaders. Both are under appreciated and under payed. This is a SPORT. Dudes carry a ball around and push each other and get cheered on. Girls and guys carry around OTHER GIRLS (120++) and all they get told is “that’s not a real sport” 🙄

  13. I’m a high school cheerleader and we work so hard and we have to look a certain way and we can get kicked off the team as well for pictures we post. High school cheer gets similar treatment as professional cheerleaders and it needs to change. We work so fucking hard and follow so many rules and we just get discriminated and looked down on

  14. I’ve been cheering since I was 3 and I respect these girls to the max but what these girls are doing is not considered cheerleading. They don’t tumble, stunt, jump, or scream at the top of their lungs. They do dance moves and not cheer moves. That’s just my opinion

  15. That’s fucked up. How can players get millions but cheerleaders, who literally cheer them on, can’t even make minimum wage???

  16. And they will always be labeled as a "slut" by men, despite men loving what they look like physically

  17. While they’re disrespected, and not paid enough, they aren’t cheerleaders. They’re dancers. I cheered competitively for 13 years, they don’t stunt, tumble or even cheer??? They’re professional NFL dancers.

  18. And this is how women make themselves a sex object.. I'm not saying wearing shorts are bad but why like this!!

  19. I understand their struggles but please don't tried to compare their wage with mascot wege this might lead to others debate. Mascot also a hard job too inside is super hot and their also agreement that they can't pull off the head whatever they want (to avoid destroy child fantasies and stuff)

  20. This report is leaving out that the cheerleaders have other opportunities to make money based on the fact that they are cheerleaders.
    They get paid to attend special events and to pose for pictures with people while in their uniforms, modeling jobs (swimwear, spray tans, calendars, etcetera) paid uso tours, and some get free college while they are cheerleading.
    I agree they should get paid more from the NFL but this story isnt being completely honest about how much money some cheerleaders make.
    I think free college is worth it to some girls.
    Also they obviously like cheerleading so it’s not oh so terribly sad that they are cheerleaders.

  21. Feel sorry for these women. But it sound like the NFL is taking there ques out of the Bible. Women are suppose to be submissive, quiet, treated like cattle and have no voice.

  22. The one topic I would love for Refinery29 to cover is that of an Ex-NFL Cheerleader who viewed her time on the team as..idk..positive?! I can honestly say that there have been countless times that my experience as an ex-cheerleader put me ahead of the game: time management, client relations, sales intuition, and just all-around strong work ethic.

    I am by no means trying to diminish the issues and experiences that these women might have faced but all I'm saying is why not tell the GOOD, bad and the ugly.

    I know I probably have an unpopular opinion but both the ying and the yang deserved to be heard.

  23. NFL cheer isn't real cheer anyway. REAL "professional" cheer is all-star, competitive cheer. That's the kind that should be taken seriously.

  24. How about this. How about they all quit at the same time, and let's see the amount of views the NFL is gonna get. I've always hated American "football" it's not even real football. No wonder it's not a worldwide thing, and they treat people like shit.

  25. What an awesome Doc, this reminded me a lot of like when Vice Media used to make good content! I’ll sub.

  26. They should have hairstylists and manicurist on hand for game days, the NFL makes a ridiculous amount of money. If it’s so important to them, they should pay for it.

  27. When that woman said "your just in a uniform, you don't mean anything, your easily replaceable" I'm just like "hmmm… That sounds A LOT like Abby Lee Miller and she HATES cheerleaders cause THEY are disrespectful to them. And Abby says they are "over sexualised" meanwhile she is dressed 8 year olds and younger like stripers and making them drop and open there legs

  28. Lol u dance around half naked and u expect ppl to respect you!!?? Respect ur self first if u want others to respect u

  29. This is just horrible, one they are not being treated well and they don’t make enough money to survive on it’s sad

  30. Such a sad, painfully obvious way women are dehumanized and seen as objects for men's pleasure. Utilitarianism at it's peak.

  31. What the fuck 100$ per game? I used to work at my dad’s job and i got paid 100$ to just roll up utensils in napkins….💀

  32. Until we as woman are valued this will sadly continue. Football is a man's world so if a woman wants to get in they first have to swallow bullshit. An since I don't swallow I quit.

  33. i know the video isn’t about competitive cheerleading, it’s about pro cheer which is super different but if you dismiss cheer only as an “image obsessed, second rate sport” you just don’t know. i do competitive cheer so it’s not the same than school and nfl cheer but we still owe respect to those too. competitive cheer is hard, hard work and months of preparation and practice. we don’t do it for other people, we do it for our love and passion for the sport. we do it for the team. yes competition does entail hair and makeup and glamming up, but that’s not all it’s about. it hurts when people brush aside all of our hard work because it’s “just cheerleading.” this is something we love and having it constantly shit on sucks.

  34. You should watch the Original Dallas Cowboys movie/documentary. What those girls went through. Every team needs a Suzanne Mitchell. I can't believe these girls don't get paid even half of what the players make & they train just as hard.

  35. The way they’re treated is disgusting. Talk about being absolutely objectified and disrespected. It’s great that they’re speaking out!

  36. I have always pitied cheerleaders. They sacrifice most of their free time practicing their routines and get nothing in return but a little attention as a side show.

  37. well UK's cheerleaders in Rugby have it better than these wonderful girls I still love both of them BTW (since I am a Heterosexual I only care about a girl's clothes rather than her body because I have a severe case of fashion envy whenever I see a combination of 4 colors which are white black pink and purple)

  38. I really don't get how the football players can be paid millions of dollars and they don't make any money what so ever. This is so sad. The way the NFL treats the girls is just wrong. Wish all woman would go on strike and not want to be a cheerleader for the NFL.

  39. This is not cheer. It's pom dance. Real cheerleading is stunting, flipping, and actually being like, athletic. It doesn't take much skill to whip your hair and arms around

  40. I honestly think cheerleading is stupid. I mean it is basically a group of girls, who have to wear miniskirts and make-up to cheer for the men. I think cheerleading, the way it is today, is degrading. Originally, it wasn't like that, but that is what it is now. It doesn't really surprise me that the girls are paid very little, that they are forced to look good or leave, and that they are given all these ridiculous rules that don't apply to men. It doesn't surprise me at all. Of course it is sexist, and it starts at school. When you dress up schoolgirls in clothes that normally would have violated the dress code, so that they can be sexualised and cheer for guys, that is what you get, a sexist institution. Not surprised at all.

  41. Support Erica Wilkins in her lawsuit against the Dallas Cowboys for equal pay for women in the NFL! These women are grossly underpaid!

  42. I think cheerleading is a sport, it obviously takes some sort of athleticism and endurance. I personally think cheerleading is another way to make young girls and women look like tools. Again, my personal opinion, but I do strongly agree that those women in NFL deserve better treatment and respect. They are dancing around all game and having men scream things at them, and have men make disgusting faces at them to only get paid 100 dollars a game!?!!!? Horrible! I sat near the cheerleaders and I’ve seen and heard men say absolutely disgusting things to them and they just stand there and smile because that’s what their told to do.

  43. I’m sorry but duh appearance is important. Is it the most important in any situation, no! But it is important, personality shines through ugly and pretty but the first thing you notice about anyone is looks. Hygiene is apart of appearance and beauty and hygiene is super important. Being healthy is apart of beauty, you can’t deny appearance is important. Do I think pro cheerleaders are under paid? Yea they are. That’s all I take from this video.

  44. Andddd they go into this knowing what it’s like and then complain? It won’t change if you just accept it 🙄 don’t whine about it then.

  45. bullshit manipulative crap! NFL iis bussiness so they don't want girls that distract the players for obvious reasons 2. paid like the players??????? for what? shake their booty? oh c'mon gimme a break 3. thhey DO should be treated with more respect with bigger salaries !!!!!

  46. in my school Cheerleading is considered to be more dangerous than any other sport we can have tryouts if we are doing stunts on a soft mattress and during sideline cheer we do it in a padded room if I was a foreign exchange student in the USA i would be very picky on the cheer uniform's colors I would like it to be a combination of Violet Black and Fuchsia and i like the pom poms to be big and heavier

  47. When will people realize that this is not cheerleading… these are DANCERS!!! Honestly y’all should look at All Star Cheerleading

  48. The thing I am unable to comprehend is why anyone would want to do such a job where you are treated badly are underpaid and so vulnerable to harassment.
    It also doesn't look like they are forced to do it or have no options, most of them could easily get a better job.
    Replies would be an appreciated

  49. The disrespect is never going to end if the majority of the girls are okay with the gross treatment and allow it.Don’t forget that men act the way they do,because there’s a lot of women out there that allow it… If all women respected themselves body mind and soul men would know better,but not all women want it or care to have it.

  50. Every bit of this is true. When I cheered for the Cincinnati Bengals we made $50/game and definitely had to pay for everything else ourselves. The only thing the team pays for is the uniform and the boots. On top looking like models 24/7, we had the anxiety of weigh-ins twice a week. If you didn’t make weight you couldn’t cheer. I was told that at 5’2 and 127lbs I was 10lbs overweight and was benched until I lost it. Took me years to get over my obsession with the scale. We were paraded around the owner’s rich friends and sponsors like high class escorts expecting to please when one of them chose us. It was humiliating. I cried when I heard what happened to the Redskins girls. I knew they weren’t lying.

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