After the first in-depth analysis of the unfair treatment of the Raiderettes, the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders, more and more squads of NFL cheerleaders are coming forward sharing similar stories of poor pay and being overworked. The Jills, the cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills, have brought a lawsuit against their management group and the team itself.
Some of the accusations include significant underpayment and lack of reimbursement for work-related appointments and gear, heavy control of actions and appearances, and inconsistent adherence to federal employment laws.
Reading the scrutiny and expectations to which the Jills are subjected according to the squad handbook ranges from reasonable to downright gross.
Respect for people is a concept taken from the Toyota Production System and it involves facilitating a culture of learning, sharing, and growth. A culture of stress, overwork, excessive control, degradation, and potential for sexual mistreatment is not one that facilitates respect.
Now I concede that part of the added value of a cheerleading squad is physical appearance and public-facing demeanor. We might not like the judgment of such subject matter, but the fact remains it exists. It’s subjective and our society has been coached to see such judgment as unfair, but physical appearance and pleasant demeanor are things that fans expect from cheerleaders. At the same time I don’t have a 90 MPH heater so my value as a MLB pitcher is quite low. I’m not going to get into the analysis of the fairness of the “jiggle test” or physical appearance standards for cheerleading squads here, but the salary issue raises eyebrows.
I will rail all day on the poor pay given by major sports organizations to low-level employees like interns or high-demand high-profile positions like cheerleaders. It’s ridiculous and disgusting how teams can utilize high-drive energetic employees through long hours and unusual expectations while sweeping it under the rug as an “internship”.
Minor league teams would skewer me for saying it, but it’s true. If your business model involves heavy hours from severely underpaid employees, you have a bad business model.
How can you expect your employees to perform at their best physically, mentally, and emotionally when outside stresses caused by you could be wearing them down?
Look, the Jills were already being paid poorly – relative to the other costs of running the franchise and the overall revenues driven by the team, giving a salary bump to the cheerleaders and taking care of their expenses not only won’t be a major cost but the team members may perform better since they will be less stressed AND the reduced turnover (and associated costs of hiring and retraining new employees) will add value.
But the management team for the Jills say that the lawsuit and increased operational costs will force the squad to cease operations. Well, if you can’t pay your employees enough for them to live healthy lives, maybe your operations should cease to exist.
Just because you have the power to give poor salaries to grunt employees doesn’t mean you should. Taking care of your partners and associates is respect for people. More sports organizations need to practice it.