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Cheering for a Change

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Cheerleaders have long been viewed negatively in the public eye. From their failure to be seen as “real athletes,” to their immense objectification, cheerleaders enter onto uneven playing field the moment they make the squad.

However, in wake of the #MeToo movement, the challenges faced by professional cheerleaders have come to the public’s attention.  

In January, Bailey Davis was fired from her job as a cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints. Why? A social media post displaying Davis in a lacey leotard taken for a dance-related photoshoot. Her employer characterized the picture as sexual in nature and scandalous.

This code of conduct “violation” has placed the other nonsensical rules and regulations set by the NFL pertaining to cheerleaders into light. Cheerleaders are forced to abide to a strict set of anti-fraternization rules. They cannot speak to players. They cannot follow players on social media nor can they let players follow them. If a player enters a restaurant they are at, they must leave immediately. Violating these rules is grounds for immediate dismissal from the squad.

Following her termination, Davis has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is in charge of enforcing civil rights laws. This complaint alleges the Saints of enforcing too separate, unequal sets of rules— one for male players and one for female cheerleaders.

“If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders,” said Sara Blackwell, Davis’s lawyer. “The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”

With the momentum of the #MeToo movement, the struggle facing cheerleaders has finally become clear. Even at the high school level, the hard work and overall athleticism of cheerleaders goes unnoticed. Instead, female cheerleaders particularly, are viewed as nothing more than women who shake their pom poms wearing a skimpy outfit.

Becoming a professional cheerleader in the NFL is far from an easy task. The women must endure days of an arduous tryout process, which ranges from dance evaluations to in person interviews. Once they  make the squad, cheerleaders must practice for hours on end each week, but do not receive a salary remotely close to those of the players, meaning many of them must take on a secondary job.

Some argue that the NFL should eliminate cheer squads altogether. However, this is not a solution to the obvious sexism in the industry. Professional cheer serves as a goal for those who are passionate about the sport. Eliminate the excessively skimpy outfits, discriminatory rules and overall lack of respect before eliminating the squad.

Davis’s complaint is just one of endless cases of discrimination faced by cheerleaders. She and many others seek to finally #LevelThePlayingField

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