There's something irresistible about cheerleaders standing up for their rights.
They represent an outdated notion about the decorative function of women in the male combat arena known as professional football. They are supposed to be grateful just for the chance to be exploited.
But they are an integral part of the show. They work hard. They are expected to represent the team's interest on and off the field. Why should they not receive fair compensation? A typical NFL cheerleader earns less money than anyone else associated with the game, including hot dog vendors and parking lot attendants.
Lacy T., the Raiderette who filed a class-action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 22 in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging wage theft and a raft of other labor law violations, has done her fellow NFL cheerleaders a favor. Her lawsuit has captured imaginations around the world, and she's been deluged with requests for interviews.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported, the U.S. Department of Labor opened an investigation into her claims.
Her attorney, Leslie Levy, confirmed to The Times that she has been notified of the inquiry.
The AP noted that other professional teams have been investigated by the feds as well: "In August, the San Francisco Giants paid $544,000 in back wages to 74 employees after a Labor Department investigation found wage violations over a three-year period. The department has also announced an investigation into the use of unpaid interns by the Giants and a second major league baseball team, the Miami Marlins."
Last week, Lacy, 28, said she hoped NFL cheerleaders would step up and join her in her struggle for "respect and fair compensation. We deserve it."
So far, though, according to Levy, she has received quiet support from some of her peers. No one has yet stepped up publicly.
Maybe Lacy is uncowed because she had already been a professional cheerleader, working for a team that paid a legal wage. For two years, ending in 2011, she worked for the Golden State Warriors basketball team.
The Warriors, Lacy said, paid her $10 an hour for all her games, rehearsals and appearances. That is in stark contrast to the Raiders, which pay their cheerleaders $125 per game, and offer exactly zero compensation for hours upon hours of rehearsals, drills, meetings, photo shoots and compulsory charity and corporate appearances.
Lacy figures her Raiders compensation works out to about $5 an hour, far less than the state's mandatory minimum wage of $8.
The Raiderettes handbook, which I wrote about Monday, is the perfect distillation of how teams disrespect the professional women who liven up their games.
Treated like children, and paid less than your average teenage babysitter, they are told how to look, act, talk and eat. They are threatened with fines for showing up late to practices and dismissal if they become overly friendly with players or front office personnel. They are told they are to blame if they become the subject of gossip.
In 2009, on his ESPN blog Gregg Easterbrook tried to find out whether cheerleaders who appeared in an ad for DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package starring Peyton Manning had received any compensation. DirecTV told him to ask the NFL. The NFL told him to ask DirecTV.
Since DirecTV's contract with the NFL allows it to use cheerleader images, Easterbrook concluded that the women were providing their images gratis. (The Raiderettes contract, a copy of which is included in Lacy's lawsuit, must give the Raiders the rights to their voices and images for use in merchandising and publicity materials like the 2014 Raiderette Swimsuit Calendar.
The bind for many cheerleaders is that they love the work so much they will do it for crumbs rather than not do it at all.
"But," as Easterbrook noted, "that should not be the choice. Do it cheap or we'll find someone else who will' is manipulation. Cheerleaders are professional performers and deserve decent pay."
Rah to that.