Remember back in June, when we brought you the news that five NFL teams were being sued by their cheerleaders for their inability to pay their cheering squads anything resembling minimum wage? Well, the league has finally weighed in on the controversy in public, responding to suit from former Oakland Raiderettes, and the official stance amounts to little more than “well, it’s not our problem.” Even though the league seems to disregard player safety, it certainly cares more about its players than any other employees. At least, it will admit that the league has some say over the financial situations of the players, while its stance with the cheerleaders is that it’s immune to state labor laws like minimum wage.
The NFL, essentially, is saying that the cheerleaders should be suing individual teams, rather than the league itself. In the section of the legal response, which you can read in its entirety here, courtesy of NBC Bay Area, helpfully titled “The NFL Is Not, And Never Was, Plantiffs’ Employer,” the league’s lawyers wrote that “the NFL is not a party to and has no authority to enforce the Raiderette agreement [between the Raiders and the cheerleaders].” The league also relied on a California Supreme Court decision, which found that players were not allowed to bring antitrust suits against the NFL (you can see a summary of that case here).
If you are of the mind that this is tangential, and that it’s a fairly big leap that the league is making, you’re thinking along the same lines as the Raiderettes and their legal team. “There is no logical limit to their argument,” Drexel Bradshaw, an attorney representing the two cheerleaders, told NBC Bay Area earlier this week. “If what they say is true, then no employee of any club team is afforded protections. That means anyone who is not a player — coaches, custodian, secretaries, groundskeepers, no one would be treated as a legitimate employee.”
The NFL’s legal team also maintains that the league can wash its hands of this case because “the Bylaws unequivocally do not grant the NFL any right to control the Raiders with respect to Plaintiffs’ wages, hours, and working conditions,” which doesn’t pass the logic test at all, even though we’re inclined to agree with the NFL that the cheerleaders would have a stronger case against the Raiders than the league as a whole.
That said, the NFL is notoriously controlling — it loves control. It loves it. That’s why the league has the worst collective bargaining agreement for its athletes out of any major sport. That’s why the league insists that playing football doesn’t lead to brain damage, then pay lip service to the idea when it’s forced to — because it fully acknowledges its position at the forefront of the public perception of its sport, and how little it has to do to maintain it.
Put another way, we can’t imagine that the NFL would be halted from ensuring that the league’s cheerleaders would have to be paid minimum wage by each and every team if the front office really wanted it to happen. According to the Raiderettes’ lawsuit, the NFL has a system in place to prevent cheerleaders from working for other NFL franchises or discussing their wages with each other, which would seem to indicate that the league has no interest in watching cheerleader’s get paid fairly. In the wake of the cheerleader lawsuits, which are still ongoing, the Oakland Raiders have raised their pay to the California minimum wage –$9 an hour.