Cowboys cheerleaders dance on the field.
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NFL Cheerleaders Make Less Than Minimum Wage, but They're Taking Action

NFL cheerleaders are front and center every Sunday, but for all their hard work, they're barely paid anything. That's changing.

The average NFL team is worth more than $4 billion, so it makes sense that even the smaller, unheralded jobs like water boys make surprisingly good money. For whatever reason, though, the same can't be said for the average NFL cheerleader salary.

Cheerleading is not as glamorous as you might think. The NFL's professional cheerleaders must abide by a rigid schedule and strict set of rules, including what they have to look like. But women like Justine Lindsay, who this season became the first openly trans NFL cheerleader and is also Black and bald, are breaking down those notions every day.

While the title sounds glorious, the job description packs way more duties into it than the pay calls far. It includes day-long practices and showing face at team appearances for which they are compensated very poorly. It's far from what you saw on the sidelines in high school. So why do NFL cheerleaders get paid like they're in high school? At a certain point, we need to stop referring to these women as independent contractors and start looking at the potential wage theft going on.

Considering owners like Jerry Jones can afford a $250 million yacht, you'd think he'd be able to make Dallas Cowboys cheerleading team member's salary at least minimum wage. The most famous cheerleading squad in America deserves way more than that, but that's an argument for a different day. Simply put, NFL cheerleader pay is far too low, especially when you look at the jaw-dropping money involved in the Super Bowl.

While National Football League teams are printing money and the football players are cashing in on massive paydays, members of the cheer squads are getting paid pennies for their hard work and dedication.

The Strict Lifestyle of NFL Cheerleaders

Cowboys cheerleaders dance on the field.

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The life of a cheerleader is not as glamorous as it seems.

For many of these cheerleaders, dancing in mini-skirts isn't their first job. The requirements turn what looks like a fun side gig or part-time job into another full-time job.

Practices can be a commitment of as much as eight hours per week. Public appearances and photoshoots eat into their schedules. Home games are an all-day affair. Plus, some cheerleading squads must work when the team plays on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

"I really felt like I had two full-time jobs during the season," former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader Tiffany Monroe told Money. "And our season never really ended. We got a little bit of a break in February."

One anonymous former cheerleader spoke with Cosmopolitan about the harsh realities of the sideline career. Gaining weight is a no-no. Perfectly manicured nails and straight hair are musts. Even the wrong shade of skin could be grounds for firing. Cheerleaders are also barred from fraternizing with the NFL players.

"I quickly found out that the hardest part of professional cheerleading isn't learning the eight counts, high kicks, or whatever cheesy dance move we were being taught," she said. "It was always looking perfect. Our contracts actually said, 'Your appearance must be impeccable at all times.'"

How Much Do NFL Cheerleaders Make?

Dolphins cheerleaders kick their legs up.

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Despite sharing the same football field with millionaire athletes, cheerleaders only make a small fraction of what the players do.

The same former cheerleader revealed to Cosmopolitan that she made just $3,000 during the 2006 season, but she only took home a few hundred bucks after deducting things like manicures, makeup and personal trainers. Another former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a lawsuit claiming to have made $1,250 in a season, or about $2.75 per hour.

According to ESPN, the common rate of pay for NFL cheerleaders is $150 each game day and $50-75 per public appearance. Each team hosts 10 games. However, with the league shifting to 17 games in 2021, each conference takes turns hosting nine regular season games (and one preseason game) while the conference with eight regular season games has two preseason contests. The NFC has the honor in 2022.

How much NFL cheerleaders make depends on the number of appearances, but the average NFL cheerleader salary is probably less than $10,000 per year. Some cheerleaders can make more if their team makes the playoffs.

NBA cheerleaders, in comparison, earn similar money per game. But NBA teams play 41 home games, more than four times the amount NFL teams do.

On top of the terrible pay, some NFL teams make cheerleaders pay to audition in the first place. The Atlanta Falcons, for example, charge $35 while the New Orleans Saints (the Saintsations) and Indianapolis Colts require $75.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Salary: The NFL's Cream of the Crop

Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders perform before the team plays the Chicago Bears.

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It isn't clear exactly how much it pays to be a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys, but we do have some anecdotal evidence.

Former Cowboys cheerleader Erica Wilkins sued the team in 2019 after claiming she made $8 per hour, far less than NFL mascots. The team settled the dispute and the entire squad earned a much-deserved raise.

She said that her first year on the team she made about $5,000 in yearly earnings and that number only grew to $16,000 by her third year cheering for America's Team. In addition to the about $8 an hour she received, she was paid $200 for each game day. Even after gaining a few years of experience doing cheer stunts on the field, she still wasn't making all that much.

But strict schedules meant these DCC cheerleaders couldn't get second jobs. All for sometimes less than minimum wage, Wilkins told WFAA. The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25.

"I remember I did an out of town appearance. It was my first year on the team meaning I'm making $100 flat rate for that appearance," Wilkins explained. "I think it ended up being like a 16-hour day and I was paid a flat rate of $100 plus taxes being taken out of that. I think it was $88."

As more cases like Wilkins come to light, hopefully pay improves.

NFL Cheerleading Squads are Making an Effort to Improve Pay

Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders perform at a preseason game against the Washington Commanders.

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In general, these experienced cheerleaders don't make a whole lot to work pro football games. The good news is these pom-pom professionals have taken a stance in recent years.

In addition to Wilkins' case, both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' squad and the Oakland Raiders' Raiderettes filed class-action lawsuits in 2014 after taking home just $1,000 for one NFL season.

The result? Teams were forced to cough up money and must now pay for every hour worked.

Other cheerleading squads like the Buffalo Bills' Buffalo Jills, Cincinnati Bengals' Cincinnati Ben-Gals and New York Jets cheerleaders have also won lawsuits. According to Money, the then-San Diego Chargers had previously been paying their cheerleaders $75 per game, but a California law in 2016 made teams pay at least the state's minimum wage of $10 per hour.

In fact, according to The Guardian, 10 of the 26 NFL teams with cheer squads "had been slapped with wage theft, harassment, unsafe working conditions or discrimination suits" by the fall of 2020.

The New York Times broke a story in 2018 describing how Washington Redskins cheerleaders were forced to post topless in a 2013 photoshoot in Costa Rica, a trip that included some cheerleaders having to serve as personal escorts for team sponsors and suit holders.

And in 2022, the Cowboys paid a confidential settlement of $2.4 million to members of the cheerleading team after a senior team executive, Richard Dalrymple, was accused of voyeurism in their locker room while they changed in 2015. Each of the four women involved received just shy of $400,000.

It's time for change, and these incredible performers deserve it. Let's hope these ladies get paid what they're worth.

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