- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are among the NFL’s oldest franchises.

They also were among the seven NFL teams that don’t field cheerleading squads — until Detroit removed itself from that number on Tuesday.

Lions fans will have an alternative form of entertainment this season when the main attraction (inevitably) disappoints.

“One of the things clearly that we have to do is create a great in-game environment,” team president Rod Wood told reporters on Tuesday. “And having cheerleaders added to that along with many other things we’re considering, including working on our Wi-Fi.”

Ogle and Google. Sounds like a winning combination.

You can’t go wrong with having cheerleaders, unless you think scantily clad women jiggling on the sidelines sends a conflicting message about sexism and objectification as sports and society grapple with the entrenched issues of sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s harder to imagine cheerleaders as brain surgeons when our focus is on their bodies.

As the father of a “Foxxy Dancer” with the Morgan State University Marching Band, I have a different view of dancers and cheerleaders. However, I remember my old view and realize it’s still predominant among many other red-blooded men.

But we’re all responsible for own thoughts — no matter how provocative a routine might be — and even more accountable for our actions.

I’m fine with NFL teams employing cheerleaders to enhance the games’ atmosphere and aesthetics. The lovely ladies certainly don’t detract from the proceedings. But teams that subject cheerleaders to sub-minimum wages, psychological abuse, leering male sponsors and hours of unpaid work should be kicked right between the uprights.

Buffalo had a squad that formed in 1967 — eight years after the Bills became founding members of the American Football League — and was turned over to a private management company in 1986. But when members of the Buffalo Jills, like peers on several other NFL cheerleading squads, began complaining about working conditions in recent years, the management company suspended operations prior to the 2014 season.

In addition to the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets also have been sued by their cheerleaders, who argue they’re misclassified as independent contractors and thereby deprived of certain wage and workplace rights.

A revealing feature on “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” highlighted the problems a couple of years ago. One of the Raiderettes said they received $125 for home games, but nothing for mandatory practices, photo shoots, team meetings, workouts and accessories. The Jills were forced to abide by a strict code of conduct, with rules on wearing their hair, maintaining their hygiene and eating not too much bread in public. They also had to attend fundraisers in skimpy clothes, where they might be auctioned off and forced to ride golf carts while sitting on the laps of handsy men.

That’s no way to show respect for women, who make up an estimated 45 percent of NFL fans and 33 percent of NFL TV viewers.

“I think the cheerleaders perform a very valuable function for us,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at the Super Bowl this year when asked about the wave of lawsuits. “They’re very active in their communities. I respect what they do. They do a lot of charitable work. They’re passionate about our game, so I think they should be properly compensated.”

Better late than never. The Raiders settled with the Raiderettes for $1.25 million. The Buccaneers reached a settlement of $825,000. The Jets agreed to pay The Flight Crew nearly $324,000.

Decent wages and workplace conditions aren’t too much for cheerleaders to ask, regardless of how many young ladies would gladly take their place. Fair is based on value, not the worst someone will accept.

Cheerleaders get our attention with their short-shorts and paltry tops. We make loads of assumptions based on their attire and dance moves, but they deserve to be treated with the same dignity afforded to, say, Dr. Robin West.

On Wednesday, Washington named West as director of sports medicine, making her the NFL’s first female head physician. She already owned a similar distinction in MLB with the Nationals. As for role models, little girls can’t do much worse.

But the same is true for NFL cheerleaders, inspiration for little girls who love to dance and cheer. Most of them hang up their pom-poms before reaching the top level, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the ones who continue to perform for professional teams.

Now that Detroit has signed off on adding the entertainers, the Lions must avoid the exploitation practiced by other franchises.

“We’ve interfaced with a couple teams in particular that gave us the benefit of some of their documentation on how they’ve hired the cheerleaders, how they’ve been compensated,” Wood said. “And we’re trying to follow the best practices across the whole league so that we don’t get tripped up by some of the things the other teams have had happen in terms of wage disputes, etc.”

Here’s hoping they get this right.

The Lions haven’t won a postseason contest since 1957.

But at least their home games will be more watchable this year.


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