Tampa Bay Cheerleaders Get Paid "Minimum Wage" Equivalent For Their Work Now

No, you did not read that title incorrectly.

All 94 women who were Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders between June 3, 2009 and May 9, 2014, former and current, can claim a piece of the $825,000 the team agreed to pay the group (less $264,000 in attorney's fees, which works out to about $3,400 per person). A former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL team, with two plaintiffs joining to front the class, regarding unpaid work. Manouchcar Pierre-Val, the name plaintiff, was a Tampa Bay Cheerleader from approximately March 2012 to March 2013. The class claimed that the Buccaneers violated both federal and state wage laws. Pierre-Val claims that she received $100 per game and $25 to $50 an hour for corporate events and received nothing for practicing three to four hours a week, nonprofit events, calendar photo shoots, or teaching the Bucs youth cheerleader camp. The settlement is awaiting court approval. Also, as always, the cheerleaders individually can opt out of the agreement.

 Copyright by Hendrik Fischbach

Copyright by Hendrik Fischbach

The Tampa Bay Cheerlearders followed the Oakland Raiders Cheerleaders' steps. Last September, that group settled a lawsuit with the Raiders for $1.25 million for their own fair wages claim. Similarly, three other NFL teams - the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets - are currently in Tampa Bay's shoes. Cheerleaders from those teams have also filed suit alleging parallel claims, and the Bills Cheerleaders allege unfair treatment being forced to partake in demeaning practices like "jiggle tests" in addition to unfair wages.

I know some women on professional sports dance teams or cheer teams, and I understand how little they receive monetarily for the amount of hours they tend to devote to their duties. Admittedly, the women bring in a lot of revenue to the franchises directly and indirectly, but they are replaceable as anyone low on the totem pole in the sports industry is replaceable. That is why businesses in the sports industry can pay little to nothing to pieces of the puzzle like cheerleaders and interns - job supply is limited, and demand is high and fierce. $100 per game and a smaller additional amount for corporate and social events seems to be the industry "norm," but the women who are selected out of the hundreds or thousands who audition for a spot on each cheer or dance team sign binding contracts and should fully understand what they are agreeing to work. That is why the turnover rate is so high - it tends to be young women who stay on for a year or two not expecting to make a living from it but rather to save money for college, work through college, or get a kick start in a career in performing arts.

What is "fair" here anyway? Settlements do not give us legal answers, but at least the plaintiffs get A little more money and a national headline to spark the conversation.

The professional sports franchises are not admitting liability by choosing to settle. Here, the Buccaneers want "to avoid the burden, expense, and uncertainty of continuing the Litigation." I think this is completely understandable because to the brand this money is pocket change, and the front office has trade priorities at the moment to set up for next season. Pierre-Val's attorney stated, "[The cheerleaders] play a huge role in [the Bucs] brand, so they should be compensated accordingly." True? Yes. Relevant? That is questionable, unless you are a cheerleader for a franchise like the Dallas Cowboys and influential enough to where, for instance, adult films are based off the image.

Example: The Detroit Pride Cheerleaders. One way these lawsuits lean toward the irrelevant side of the scale is because not every team has an affiliated cheer team. The Detroit Lions is one of six NFL teams without cheerleaders. The Detroit Pride Cheerleaders are not affiliated with the Detroit Lions but have been 100 percent volunteer cheerleaders for every game since September 2010. The Pride Cheerleaders' mission is to "encourage spirit and enthusiasm for the City of Detroit and of [its] sports teams. [They] have fun during home and away games and [they] work hard to enhance the game day experience for the FANS! [They] pride [themselves] on being positive role models for youth across the state and by aligning [themselves] with charities and organizations throughout the area with appearances and monetary donations, [they] aim to bring the PRIDE back to Detroit!" Because they are not affiliated with the Lions like the Bucs Cheerleaders are with the Bucs, the Pride Cheerleaders do their performances during tailgates rather than on the field. They have calendar photo shoots, do corporate events, and attend nonprofit events. In fact, the Pride Cheerleaders have about twice the amount of "likes" on Facebook than the Bucs Cheerleaders. These women are integral to sports, but what is "fair" compensation is hard to define when just one example demonstrates difficulties. Couldn't simply restructuring the employment agreement to distribute the $100 per game to an hourly rate for game time and practice time, similar to the event rate as is, settle the issue so the employee cheerleaders are earning at least minimum wage?

As a woman and former dancer, I do not want to undermine what Pierre-Val claims these women do because they are important and deserve to be paid for their work. Like Pierre-Val said, "It's a time commitment both mentally and physically." On the other hand, as a mid-twenties professional in the early stages of a career in the sports industry, I acknowledge and accept that the monetary compensation likely will not be what I could earn in another industry. It is true that this may not be fair and that it may be time to change that line of thought especially with the powerful equal pay movement right now, but hey, the law treats the sports industry different from all others.