In these days leading up to the Super Bowl, Boston radio host Margery Eagan has something to say about NFL cheerleaders.
They are giving her pause at a time in history when women are loudly and profoundly speaking up about sexual assault and workplace mistreatment.
In an opinion column published Sunday by The Boston Globe, Eagan and others she cited call out how much, or little, NFL cheerleaders are paid and their “degrading” work conditions — all issues that have caused cheerleaders to sue teams in recent years.
“In the midst of this #MeToo moment — and two weeks from the Super Bowl — it’s time to rethink NFL cheerleaders and their barely covered breasts being ogled on the sidelines by drunken men with binoculars,” writes Eagan, a co-host of WGBH’s midday program “Boston Public Radio.”
“It’s embarrassing for us all. Or should be.”
A Stanford University graduate, Eagan has written for several publications, including the Boston Herald, where she was a columnist for 27 years, according to her WGBH bio.
She was also the Catholic spirituality columnist for the Boston Globe’s Catholic news website, Crux.
Being an NFL cheerleader is touted as a powerful career boost for women wanting to break into modeling, entertainment, even media work. Public appearances, swimsuit calendars and charity work give them big exposure.
But Eagan cited Drexel Bradshaw, a lawyer who has represented cheerleaders in fair-pay lawsuits against the NFL, who considers their wages sexist exploitation.
Many of the women who end up with the NFL have trained classically for more than a decade or two in ballet and dance but still earn sub-minimum wages with no benefits, Bradshaw contends.
At least five NFL teams in recent years — the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets — have been sued by their cheerleaders over pay, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A common complaint: teams not paying cheerleaders for the hours they spend practicing and making public appearances.
“They’re told, ‘A million girls want your job.’ Their treatment is shocking,” Bradshaw told the Reporter last year.
In a lawsuit last year accusing the NFL and team owners of conspiring to suppress wages for cheerleaders, Bradshaw represented a San Francisco 49er cheerleader he said earned $125 per game, no matter how long game day was.
She didn’t get paid for charity events or multiple practices during the week, Bradshaw said.
She made $1,250 per season, or $2.75 an hour for 450 hours of work, he said.
A federal judge denied the complaint, citing lack of evidence to support the claim of collusion among the teams to suppress cheerleader pay.
New England Patriots media director Stacey James told Eagan he couldn’t be specific about how much the team’s cheerleaders make — they are paid hourly — because of an existing “wage scale” that pays cheerleaders different amounts.
James called the cheerleaders “goodwill ambassadors” who visit hospitals and make public appearances, and mentioned that some are Harvard graduates, “defying cheerleader stereotypes.”
“On the Patriots cheerleader website, there is an impressive video of a cheerleader who’s a recent Air Force Academy graduate,” Eagan wrote.
“Unfortunately, that’s outnumbered by cheesy ‘music videos’ of cheerleaders in bikinis, neither dancing nor talking but just standing there, or sitting there, as a camera moves, slowly, up and down their bellies and thighs.”
In recent years former NFL cheerleaders have spoken anonymously to the media about their working conditions. (Very few, it appears, ever speak on the record about their jobs.)
In 2014, a former cheerleader gave Deadspin a copy of the Baltimore Ravens cheer team’s rules and regulations from 2009.
One detail: The women’s hair and makeup was assessed every year and their look for the season determined. After that, cheerleaders were required to visit the same hair salon to maintain that look, at their expense, the cheerleader told Deadspin. Hair and makeup could run the cheerleaders up to $1,000 a season, she said.
“Nothing against cheerleaders or dancers,” Trenni Kusnierek, a sports anchorwoman and reporter for NBC Boston, told Eagan. “But they’re paid like crap, treated terribly, and just so objectified. I guess I would say, what is their purpose?”
Eagan wonders the same thing. She wrote that neither she nor any of the other women she interviewed “want to ban NFL cheerleaders, tell dancers what or what not to do, or seem like completely joyless feminist prudes ruining their dreams.
“But it’s long past time for a worthier dream. As it is, something creepy and demeaning is going on.”