Good cheer!

What it’s like to be an NFL cheer­leader

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Pippa Field re­ports,

Where one goes, the other fol­lows. The Oak­land Raiders on the field, the Raiderettes cheer­lead­ers on the side­lines. It will be the same to­day at Wem­b­ley as the NFL jug­ger­naut lands back in Eng­land.

The Seat­tle Sea­hawks are the “vis­i­tors” for the first of three fix­tures on con­sec­u­tive week­ends in the cap­i­tal.

It will be the same back in Amer­ica for the rest of the sea­son, and it will be the same when the fran­chise re­lo­cates to Las Ve­gas in 2020. Ex­cept when it comes to the 550-mile move, one party could be more af­fected than the other.

“It would be a life-chang­ing move and I think all of us are tak­ing it day by day and year by year,” con­fesses Kara, who is in her fourth year on the team.

The per­son­nel of both the team and the cheer­lead­ing squad changes each sea­son de­pend­ing on suc­cess­ful draft picks and au­di­tions. But, un­like the full-time con­tracts awarded to play­ers, Raiderettes com­bine their roles with other jobs, mak­ing re­lo­ca­tion tricky.

To­day, Kara will per­form in front of a world­wide au­di­ence of mil­lions. Next week, she will be back at her of­fice man­ag­ing the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of a tech­nol­ogy firm in her home­town of Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia. She com­pletes a five-hour round com­mute three times a week to at­tend prac­tice, of­ten af­ter a full day at work. “My day to day is filled with bearded nerds, a lot of dudes, a lot of read­ing code, in­spect­ing code and fix­ing code,” ex­plains Kara, who stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

“I live this dual life of high-level tech ex­ec­u­tive with a lot of com­puter sci­ence and then I tran­si­tion to a su­per-em­pow­ered fem­i­nine po­si­tion filled with glam­our and flashy se­quins and sparkles. There are a lot of mis­con­cep­tions. A lot of peo­ple tend to project what they think it takes to be a cheer­leader.

“They don’t un­der­stand the men­tal as­pect and how you have to be ex­cel­lent in so many ar­eas of your life to get to this level. I find be­ing a cheer­leader re­ally em­pow­er­ing.”

She is not alone ei­ther in chal­leng­ing the la­bels at­tached to both cheer­lead­ers and the Raiderettes, de­scribed on their web­site as “foot­ball’s fab­u­lous fe­males”.

Sasha, 28, works for a cy­ber se­cu­rity tech­nol­ogy com­pany in San Fran­cisco; An­abelle, 26, a fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy out­fit. They agree the big­gest mis­con­cep­tion they face is over their knowl­edge of the game.

“You have to un­der­stand the game to be on the side­lines,” says An­abelle. “You are think­ing about your dances, chore­og­ra­phy, the time on the clock, you have to know what’s go­ing on in the field so you can re­act the right way and cheer in the right mo­ments.”

In June 2017, Raiders quar­ter­back Derek Carr signed a five-year con­tract worth $25mil­lion (£19mil­lion) a sea­son, mak­ing him the high­est-paid player in the NFL at the time. A month ear­lier, 90 for­mer Oak­land Raiders cheer­lead­ers re­ceived a $1.25mil­lion set­tle­ment fol­low­ing a class-ac­tion law­suit. The cheer­lead­ers claimed they were paid less than the min­i­mum wage – $125 a day – and were re­fused over­time pay, de­spite work­ing nine-hour days with no lunch break.

The law­suit is not unique to the Raiders fran­chise, nor are the whistle­blow­ing sto­ries about life as a cheer­leader, par­tic­u­larly in the #MeToo era. There are six fran­chises that choose not to have cheer­lead­ers at their games while oth­ers ar­gue for them to be re­moved com­pletely.

So why do so many still as­pire to do it? “Be­cause we love to dance, we love to per­form. We do it for the love of the Raiders,” ex­plains Sasha. She de­scribes life as a Raiderette as be­ing like part of a sis­ter­hood.

As is tra­di­tion, sur­names of cheer­lead­ers were not dis­closed dur­ing this in­ter­view and they were not al­lowed to re­veal how much they were paid, nor any rules – such as ap­pear­ance and be­hav­iour – that they had to fol­low.

Sasha, how­ever, does say: “We’re em­ploy­ees at the end of the day. As em­ploy­ees you have cer­tain things you have to ac­com­plish, such as prac­tice three days a week.”

As em­ploy­ees hold­ing down two jobs, there are go­ing to be some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions when the Las Ve­gas move hap­pens.

Oak­land Raiders v Seat­tle Sea­hawks, 6pm. Live on BBC Two and Sky Sports Main Event

Full of cheer: Raiderettes (left to right) An­abelle, Kara (front), Julie and Sasha

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.