On game days in Cincinnati, NFL fans chant, “Who dey, who dey, who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?” Turns out members of the team’s cheerleading squad are hoping to beat dem Bengals off the field and in court.
Earlier this month, Alexa Brenneman, a 24 year-old Ben-Gals cheerleader, filed a lawsuit against the franchise for underpaying her and her teammates under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Ohio’s $7.85 hourly minimum wage. In the suit, she says the $855 she made during the 2013 season over 300 hours of work comes out to $2.85 per hour. Brenneman’s legal challenge comes a few weeks after Oakland Raiders cheerleaders filed a similar suit.
In addition to cheering at Bengals home games, cheerleaders also attend outside events such as charity functions and autograph signings. They also have to make weekly practices, calendar shoots, and spend around four hours getting hair and makeup done before games, Brenneman told Time. The U.S. District judge reviewing the suit is evaluating if it meets the criteria for a class-action lawsuit.
“This isn’t something I wanted to have to do,” said Brenneman. “But I have a great respect for my squad and myself and this craft, and someone needs to take a stand for us as athletes.”
Opponents argue that Brenneman and other disgruntled cheerleaders don’t have a case. The benefits from being a cheerleader come in many forms, such as the prestige and publicity associated with a professional sports team. The New York Post noted that the exposure Paula Abdul gained as a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader eventually led to a musical career. Given the seasonal nature of the job, as well as the irregularity of the schedule, cheerleading isn’t intended to be a fulltime gig that women should expect to live on.
Additionally, just as sports teams spend their money in different ways to attract, appease, and compensate athletes, they vary their compensation packages for cheerleaders. The Seattle Seahawks, for instance, pay their Sea Gals an hourly wage for all their events with overtime. A Raiderette told Time that the NBA’s Golden State Warriors reimbursed her expenses when she cheered for the team, but the Raiders don’t offer that perk. Other cheerleaders pointed out that team rules differ from organization to organization, some being stricter than others. As with any job, cheerleaders agree to these terms before they sign on and decide to suit up accordingly.
The Bengals say Brenneman’s complaint is groundless. “The Ben-Gals cheerleading program has long been a program run by former cheerleaders and has enjoyed broad support in the community and by members of the squad,” said a Bengals spokesman, calling the suit a copycat of the Raiderettes’ lawsuit. “The Bengals will address the litigation in due course.”
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.