What goes into being a NFL cheerleader? Aside from the requisite dancing skills and acrobatics, the women who make up the professional squads across the country are subject to extremely strict rules that govern everything from their weight to their social media presences.
While each team has different policies, The New York Times reviewed seven different handbooks and each include "personal hygiene tips, like shaving techniques, and the proper use of tampons. In some cases, wearing sweatpants in public is forbidden."
Not only are their appearances regulated, but so are their schedules both on and off the field. On game days, for instance, the Carolina Panthers cheerleaders, known as the TopCats, must be at the stadium five hours before kick off, and while cheering they can only take water breaks when the team is on offense.
Off the field, most teams forbid the cheerleaders from working for other teams, taking part as an exotic dancer, posing nude or semi-nude, or performing in "tasteless" films or being a bikini or swimwear contestant. They are also forbidden from fraternizing with players—they cannot speak to them or follow them on social media.
On top of everything, their status as part-time employees does not come with a lot of benefits and they often have to front a lot of costs, including paying hundreds of dollars for their uniforms and being required to sell raffle tickets and calendars. Along with their cheering duties during the games, they also must appear at charity events and golf tournaments, but receive none of the proceeds from their involvement or from what they are asked to sell.
Some teams, like the Oakland Raiders, reportedly fine their cheerleaders $10 for seemingly innocuous offenses like bringing the correct pom poms to practice or not shining their white boots well enough for game days. If they forget their uniform for game day, they could lose an entire day's pay.
Social media is policed as well—even if their accounts are private. The New Orleans Saints fired a cheerleader this year for sharing a photo on her private Instagram that the team deemed inappropriate. She has since filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming unfair treatment.
“The club’s intention is to completely control the behavior of the women, even when they are not actually at their workplace,” said Leslie Levy, who represented cheerleaders who successfully sued the Jets and the Oakland Raiders for back pay. “It’s an issue of power. You see a disparate treatment between the cheerleaders, and the mascots and anyone else who works for the team. I can’t think of another arena where employers exert this level of control, even when they are not at work.”
Despite the restrictions, the rules remain unchanged partly because supply of cheerleaders outweigh the demand. Every member of the squad must audition each year to maintain their spot along with hundreds of hopefuls just to keep their job. It's safe to say that it's not easy to be a NFL cheerleader.