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Mac Engel: Jerry Jones is going to have to pay for Cowboys cheerleaders

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 6/20/2018 By Mac Engel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
a group of people posing for a photo: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders take the field before the first half of a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. © Brad Loper/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders take the field before the first half of a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The fact that a lawyer was able to coax a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader to sue the Dallas Cowboys is akin to finding a cardinal to speak out against the Vatican. Only wilder.

The DCCers are a proud bunch that sometimes borders on cultish. Despite their perceived solidarity, the most celebrated, cherished, copied and marketable band of pro cheerleaders is finally suing its parent organization.

The group that the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm created out of mostly ex-models has joined the growing list of NFL cheerleading squads under considerable scrutiny and, now, litigation.

Jerry Jones, there's no way around this. In this era of #TimesUp, he will have to #PayUp.

Unlike the Buffalo Bills, who suspended their cheerleading program in 2014 after five members sued for various reasons, Jerry is not going to dump one of the most visible and successful brand marketing gimmicks he has in his possession.

There will be no NFL-wide restitution in the matter of the Cheerleaders V. Football, but there is the matter of just compensation and improved treatment this day forward. Either that, or the NFL should just dump cheerleaders once and for all ... which is never happening, so best to just dispose of that proposal.

Last week, former DCCer Erica Wilkins, who cheered for the Cowboys from 2014 to 2017, cited the Fair Labor Standards Act in suing the Cowboys seeking "unpaid overtime wages, minimum wages, and all other damages."

"Finishing up at 1 a.m. is pretty normal for a weekday practice," one former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader told me, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The whole thing is such a grueling process. I was lucky to be a part of it when they had just started to pay so I did get some compensation for those late nights.

"Overall, I am grateful for the time I had doing it. With every job comes good and bad, but I do think definitely measures need to be taken in regards to pay and overtime, because for so many people the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are the entire face of that team. That's what they are selling to people, especially when the team is not doing well."

When the team has event appearances with players, often times they are overshadowed by the three or four cheerleaders who accompany them.

The only difference is whereas everyone knows Dak Prescott or Zeke Elliott, only a few know the actual name of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. And if they do know their name, they know only their first and middle names. For safety reasons, last names are not allowed.

Wilkins said she was paid $8 per hour, and that those payments were often incomplete. Starbucks pays its baristas and hourly employees an average of $8.30 an hour, to as much as $16.30.

According to the lawsuit, DCCers are paid less than the team mascot, Rowdy, who makes about $25 per hour. In fairness, Rowdy typically has better games than most of the players, so his value often exceeds virtually half the roster on a given Sunday.

Nothing that Wilkins claims in the suit contains anything near what was alleged by the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, some of whom said they were essentially used as pseudo escorts for clients of the team on a calendar photo shoot.

Eight former cheerleaders for the Houston Texans are in the process of suing the team for various reasons, from unfair wages to harassment.

"Some of these things (in the lawsuit) I don't agree with; everyone goes in knowing you are not going to get compensated as much," said former Texans cheerleader Caitlyn Beth. "I had no problem with it. I thought we were compensated OK. You get (money for gas) mileage. You get $150 per game. If we had appearances in Austin or Brenham, we would get reimbursed. I never felt money was the issue. They wanted you to have another job; they didn't want cheerleading to be the only thing you did.

"There were things to be angry about but it's not money. It's the way they speak to the girls. There is so much about your appearance; we were cheerleaders, so we get it, but some of it was awful. (The coach) pulled up a picture of one of the cheerleaders to show the cellulite she had. It was so inappropriate. It is hard to approach and talk about that subject, and I understand cheerleaders have to have a healthy appearance because of critical fans, but there is a better way to talk about this sometimes."

The reality is the women who sign up to be NFL cheerleaders are mostly disposable; they are collection of attractive young faces dressed in timeless, revealing, uniforms and blissfully unaware how easily they can be replaced. There are hundreds of women lined up two rows deep to be a part of the show.

CMT produces a wildly successful TV show based on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, "Making the Team."

The women are the stars of the show, and yet they receive no payments from its production.

Much like their team, the Dallas Cowboys created and cultivated this brand to the point where it's synonymous with cheerleading. Jerry Jones is not going to drop the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

They are merely going to have to pay for it.

Visit the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at www.star-telegram.com

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