Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Why the NFL Treats Cheerleaders Like Dirt

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 9, 2018

The Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform during the first half an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

Why is the NFL so awful to its cheerleaders? What's wrong with the Panthers? How can rookies look like NFLers without wasting their first paychecks? Who can fix the Packers defense? The answers to those questions and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.


1. The NFL's cheerleader conundrum

Years ago, I wrote a story about how perverts were spying on naked Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders.

For decades, from the 1980s until the early 2000s, players, coaches and owners would ogle the cheerleaders through carved-out peepholes as the cheerleaders showered. Yes, even owners. 

The peeping happened in the visiting locker room at Veterans Stadium and led to a lawsuit in 2002. 

But times have changed, right? The NFL got woke?

Not in the least.

Cheerleaders are still treated worse than almost any member of the NFL ecosystem. The examples are numerous, but recent ones include:

• A former Saints cheerleader saying she was fired for posting a photo the team deemed too revealing.

• A former 49ers cheerleader suing the NFL, claiming a conspiracy by teams to keep her wages low.

• Cheerleaders for the Washington franchise this month telling the New York Times they were made to pose topless for season ticket holders in Costa Rica in 2013. (The franchise is investigating the accusations.)

When it comes to the treatment of cheerleaders over the decades, almost nothing has changed. They've been treated horribly by teams, and that continues.

Maybe some would dismiss these stories as not being "about sports," but they are. They offer a rare window into how teams think about the non-billionaire masses.

It's not just owners, either. It's the league overall. You have to understand how the league views cheerleaders. Owners view players as property. Owners see cheerleaders as three-fifths of a player.

As one front-office executive told me, "Team mascots and guys who do the laundry are seen as more valuable than cheerleaders."

The executive wasn't agreeing with this view. Just stating the obvious.

In fact, the conspiracy lawsuit alleged that team mascots make between $25,000 and $60,000 per year and earn benefits, while cheerleaders earn about $125 per game.

Vogue's Michelle Ruiz compiled a list of other examples of mistreatment reported by the New York Times, which include the Saints and other teams forcing a cheerleader to leave a restaurant if a player is there when she enters, the 49ers banning cheerleaders from social or even social-media interaction with players, the Saints asking cheerleaders not to have public Instagram accounts and to block any player who tries to follow them, and multiple team handbooks telling cheerleaders how to groom themselves and what to wear in public (including, "in some cases, wearing sweatpants in public is forbidden").

As Leslie Levy, a lawyer who sued the Jets and Raiders on behalf of cheerleaders, told the New York Times' Ken Belson"The club's intention is to completely control the behavior of the women, even when they are not actually at their workplace. 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."

She can't think of one because in America, no such place exists.

Cheerleaders have never been seen as part of the NFL family. This is why they've experienced repeated incidents of maltreatment.

I've heard numerous ugly stories over the years (mostly from players) about how cheerleaders have been treated by teams.

Nothing's changed. Teams still see cheerleaders as disposable. The same way some teams see players.

Except worse.


2. How to fix the cheerleading issue

Nick Wass/Associated Press

In his 2007 autobiography, My 75 Years With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL, the late Steelers owner Dan Rooney explained why the team didn't have cheerleaders: "TV cameras liked them, but we take our football seriously in Pittsburgh. We just didn't need them."

It's one of the arguments some will make on how to fix this problem: Simply ban cheerleading in the NFL. But that's not a solution. That's just punishing the cheerleaders for the horrible behavior of men.

Here's one solution that would go a long way to making their lives better: unionize.

It would help modernize the cheerleader workplace, and establish a basic and fair pay scale. They could call it the National Football League Cheerleaders Association (you're welcome).

Cheerleaders currently are at the mercy of individual teams. There's no league policy on how they're paid. This is the biggest problem. Union protection would help curb some of these issues.

The only issue with my solution is that the minute the cheerleaders unionized, or got together to collectively bargain, the NFL might fire them all.


3. What's happening in Carolina

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

The Panthers have long been one of my favorite organizations to cover. They always seem to have some of the league's most open players. The coach is smart, they are fun to watch and the players bust their asses every play, all the time.

But something is different with the Panthers now. I can't explain what changed, but I think it did. It's not a case where it's always been this way and we're only noticing now.

The owner, Jerry Richardson, has been alleged as a chronic sexual harasser. An assistant coach quit amid an investigation into inappropriate conduct. One of the organization's best players ever was busted for a PED violation. Other Panthers players have also been suspended for PED use, as well.

Maybe with Richardson gone, there will be a culture change, starting at the top and trickling to every part of the organization. And Carolina of course isn't the only team facing issues like this.

But it's one of the ones you'd expect better from.


4. Good signing, though

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

One last thing on the Panthers. One of the best free-agent signings this season by any team was their pickup of running back C.J. Anderson. That may seem like a strange statement. Anderson signed a one-year contract. He was cut by the Denver Broncos. He's also an injury risk.

But if Anderson stays healthy, he's a perfect fit for the Panthers. That offense needs a brawler at running back, and Anderson perfectly fits that mold.

He could make the Carolina running game almost impossible to stop.


5. The strength coach?

The University of Alabama put 12 players in the NFL this season, breaking their own record of 10 from last season.

Many NFL coaches routinely speak to Nick Saban to pick his brain. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is practically a Saban groupie. There's no question that the greatest college football conduit to the NFL, possibly ever, is Alabama.

That may account for the stunning amount of money the coaches at Alabama earn. USA Today's Steve Berkowitz detailed the salaries at Alabama, and maybe the most staggering number was how the strength coach—the strength coach—earns almost $600,000 a year.

Every year, when the salaries of college coaches are released, NFL assistants go bonkers, because at some of the higher-echelon programs, the coaches are making as much, if not more, than their NFL counterparts.

(And the players don't get a dime of it.)


6. 'Love is at the root of our resistance'

Peter Dejong/Associated Press

If you haven't seen this powerful video from the New York Times about Colin Kaepernick, you should watch it. It will be worth your time.

It's one of the best explainers about what Kaepernick is fighting for. Whether you agree or disagree with him, this video will help you understand him.


7. Not all heroes wear diamonds

I can tell you there were more than a few players laughing about this tweet from 11-year veteran Will Blackmon:

Will Blackmon @WillBlackmon

Dear Rookies, Want to save money? Buy cubic zirconia earrings. You're in the NFL! No one will ever notice or question you 😂 https://t.co/K1IWMlqTNw

The tweet is a joke (mostly) but also instructive on what veterans and the union are always telling players. Which is, "Watch your cash." 


8. Tramon Williams is right

Mike Roemer/Associated Press

When defensive coordinator Dom Capers was at his best, his defenses were stellar, cutting-edge pieces of art. If his schemes were a boxer, they'd have been Sugar Ray Leonard. There were tons of feints, fakes and then pure, naked power. The cornerstone was outthinking and fooling the opponent.

But then, something happened. As Packers defensive back Tramon Williams explained to USA Today's Aaron Nagler last week, teams adapted to what Capers was doing, and Capers never adjusted to the adjustments. He stubbornly stuck with his old-school methodologies.

In defense of Capers, who the Packers fired in January after nine seasons in charge of their defense, he hasn't always been working with top-notch defensive talent, especially recently. That lack of talent limited what he could do.

Williams, who played with the Packers from 2007 to 2014 and signed to return this offseason, is still correct, though. Now comes the hard part for him and the rest of the Packers players. Capers is gone, and it's on them to fix it.


9. Carson Wentz just gets it

GMFB @gmfb

What does @cj_wentz think of the high expectations for the 2018 @Eagles? "We wouldn't have it any other way." https://t.co/UX72kOYvOb

This is what it looks like when a player gets it.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, asked about the challenges and high expectations the team faces, basically says "Bring it on." It's an attitude that's representative of the entire Philadelphia organization. Mental toughness, from the top to the bottom.


10. A great moment

Charlie Batch @CharlieBatch16

What an AWESOME day! Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership. WOW. https://t.co/1M80v8f6IL

Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch recently got his master's degree from Robert Morris University. Batch was always one of my favorite players to talk to, because he always saw there was a life beyond football.

Interestingly, Robert Morris has a strong NFL pipeline. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is a graduate. So are former NFL players Hank Fraley and Tim Levcik.

It's a nice moment for Batch and not a shock at all.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.


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