Earlier this year, four former NFL cheerleaders filed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL and its 26 teams that employ cheerleaders actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries. With the average NFL cheerleader making $100 per game, accusations that the league is conspiring to keep these women from earning a living wage is rather shocking. However, according to Jenny Busing who was an NFL cheerleader from 2008-2011 and current Director of Operations at DrumFit, the situation is much more complicated than that.
Busing states her team told her upfront that she must have a full time job or career in order to even tryout for the team because she wouldn’t be earning a living wage. “I was definitely not bamboozled or swindled when I signed up to be an NFL cheerleader. I knew exactly what I was signing up for, how many hours I would be working, and I knew what that return was going to be.” To her this wasn’t a career, but an opportunity to “do something bigger”. She cheered with some of the most impressive women she ever had the opportunity to be around including cheerleaders who were attorneys, nurses, that were students, business owners, dance studio owners, etc. Being able to be around an array of professional women allowed her to build relationships and gain job opportunities she never would’ve had if she were not apart of this organization.
While Busing believes that cheerleaders bring value to the NFL and that they are worth much more than minimum wage, she worries about the consequences these lawsuit can bring to the future of cheerleading. “I would hate to see that in exchange for $2 more dollars an hour, that we would see more and more teams get rid of their cheerleading program.” Not every NFL team currently has a cheerleading program and since cheerleaders are not an essential function to the game or to the revenue, it becomes a liability and risk that NFL teams disband their cheerleading squads all together instead of paying them a higher wage. Busing fears that the opportunity for women to participate in an organization that she credits for changing her life would vanish.
The best thing that a NFL team can do for their cheerleading program according to Busing is to invest in them. This investment can manifest in more corporate sponsorships for cheerleading squads to teams turning their cheerleading squad into a very front facing representation for the team. Busing notes that many organizations are beginning to follow the example of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders who have turned their squad into a huge brand whose popularity rival the football players they cheer for. Busing has even seen her former team invest more and more into their cheerleaders and the great changes that have come with it.
Regardless of the controversies that surround NFL cheerleaders, Busing sites being a NFL cheerleader as a defining point that changed her whole trajectory of her life. She actively fights against the negative stereotype given to NFL cheerleaders as being underpaid eye candy and has used the experience to both empower herself and other women. “I don’t feel like a victim, that I was unpaid, or a victim of inequality. I feel super empowered with my time as a NFL cheerleader. It was the most empowered experience and I worked with some of the most empowered women.“