By Jim Hightower
Let’s turn now to the wide, wide and cruel world of sports.
The big story at this time of year, of course, is the Super Bowl — that multi-multi-million-dollar showcase of super-paid superstars, billionaire owners, taxpayer-financed sports palaces, extravagant corporate skyboxes serving deep-fried caviar, and TV ads running $4 million for a 30-second spot.
Behind the scenes of this big money sports extravaganza is a sordid secret of illegal cheating.
No, not the use of steroids. Rather, this scandal is about the NFL’s use and abuse of cheerleaders. Astonishingly, these glamorous, athletic, and very-hard-working ladies — who bring sideline pizzazz to the show and are used by owners to promote the team brand and ticket sales — are paid less than the beer hawkers on game day, less than a McDonald’s “crew member,” and way less than minimum wage.
Yes, that’s illegal, which is why some Raiderettes (the popular cheerleaders of Oakland’s NFL team) have filed a lawsuit for wage theft against the owners.
Overall, pro-team cheerleaders get $70 to $90 per game. That’s for a 12-hour game day, plus uncompensated practice sessions that routinely run a grueling six hours, and mandatory promotional appearances.
No health care
Football teams nickel-and-dime the women by shorting their hours, and they even illegally fine their pep-leaders for such nonsense “transgressions” as bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. And they provide no health care for a job that puts cheerleaders at constant risk of injury.
Then there’s this Dickensian twist: The Raiders management withholds all cheerleader pay — as meager as it is — until the end of the season. The women are essentially indentured servants to teams wallowing in wealth siphoned out of the pockets of ticket holders and taxpayers.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.