This season, some new faces will be on the sidelines as NFL players take to the field. For the first time ever, the NFL has hired male dancers, who will perform alongside female cheerleaders during professional football games. While the addition of male dancers certainly demonstrates a progressive trajectory for the NFL's cheer squads, it is important to remember that many questions about female NFL cheerleaders' compensation and treatment still remain.
The NFL's 2018-2019 season will officially kick off in September — and preseason starts this week. As preseason gets underway, three male dancers will be part of two teams' cheerleading rosters. Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies will cheer for the Los Angeles Rams, while Jesse Hernandez will join the New Orleans Saints cheering team, the Saintsations.
The relationship between the NFL and its teams' cheerleaders is somewhat complicated. In the past few years, multiple cheerleaders have filed suit against various teams alleging improper compensation and/or treatment. For example, back in 2014, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders (their team was known as the Buffalo Jills), filed a lawsuit alleging that the companies managing the cheerleaders (companies outsourced by the Bills) had violated minimum wage laws.
Indeed, Christopher Marlborough, an attorney representing the Jills, claimed to Bustle in February 2018 that the Jills were required to spend many hours working without pay, including at practices, games, and other appearances. Indeed, when factoring in all of the time for which they were not compensated, Marlborough claimed to Bustle that, "some of the cheerleaders made as little as $100 a year for hundreds of hours of work." In response to the lawsuit, one of the aforementioned companies disbanded the Jills — and the Bills now do not have any cheerleaders.
In 2016, the Bills responded to the lawsuit in a statement via CNN, saying, "it remains our position that this case is being prosecuted by a very small number of former cheerleaders whose allegations do not accurately reflect the sentiment of all cheerleaders." The lawsuit is still ongoing, but last year a judge ruled that the Jills did have a right to sue the Bills, meaning the case will continue.
The Jills are not the only NFL cheerleaders to take action against an NFL team. For example, according to the Washington Post, in April 2018 former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the NFL and the Saints. Davis claimed that she was fired after being held to different social media standards than male Saints players. In response to Davis' suit, the Saints said in a statement to the New York Times,
The Saints organization strives to treat all employees fairly, including Ms. Davis ... At the appropriate time and in the appropriate forum, the Saints will defend the organization’s policies and workplace rules. For now, it is sufficient to say that Ms. Davis was not subjected to discrimination because of her gender.
These cases highlight just some of the controversy around NFL teams' supposed treatment of their cheerleaders. Now, with the addition of male dancers to some NFL cheerleading squads, some may be wondering whether this could cause pay discrimination issues to arise. Sara Blackwell, Davis' lawyer, tells Bustle that, particularly because of the attention that the NFL has received for its treatment of cheerleaders over the past few years, she believes it is quite unlikely that male and female dancers would be compensated differently. As Blackwell describes,
... I strongly believe that the NFL teams are paying the male cheerleaders the exact amount as the female cheerleaders. From what I have experienced, the NFL teams have incredible legal teams which would prevent such a blatant gender discrimination in violation of federal and state laws. Moreover, the recent criticism of the NFL teams' treatment of their cheerleaders would make it highly unlikely of gender discrimination in pay ...
The NFL replied to Bustle's request for comment on the issue of male/female cheerleader compensation by saying that questions should be directed to the teams for information or comment. The NFL has not confirmed Blackwell's comments.
Overall, the addition of male dancers to NFL cheering squads certainly shows progressive momentum. However, it does not diminish the fact that there are still many questions regarding how NFL teams supposedly treat female cheerleaders.