Of Raps and Rugby: A Pittsburgh Steelers Housekeeping Post
Although Ivan has pretty much sewn up the “think globally” part of the site writing, I’m going to dip my toes back into those waters before continuing with my profiles of the new players, because several interesting bits of news have hit the stands.
But before I speak of things particular to the Steelers, I’m going to tackle a league-wide issue which, strangely, does not effect the Steelers, thank heavens—the increasing fuss over the “working” conditions of the NFL cheerleaders.
I’ve always been a fan of the Steelers eschewing cheerleaders, and given what I’m reading, I’m even gladder, although I can’t see the Rooneys treating “employees” with the same disdain as some of the teams.
In case you’re wondering why I have italicized “working” and “employees,” it is because many cheerleaders are not, apparently, paid in any significant way.
So what are they paid? According to an article in the Times Magazine Money section, published shortly before the Super Bowl, that’s because teams are extremely secretive about what they actually pay, presumably because it is embarrassingly small. The cheerleaders used to only receive a small compensation (around or less than $100) per game, and none for the required practices, but a couple of lawsuits have changed that for the better, a bit. Apparently. Because again, no one really knows. And given the vast number of necessary expenditures (makeup, stylists, and so on) which are not reimbursed, it seems likely that the net at the end of the season is close to or less than zero.
At least that is what this Guardian article is saying:
Since 2014, five other* NFL teams – the Raiders, Buccaneers, Bengals, Jets, Bills, and one NBA team, the Bucks – have faced lawsuits from their dancers, each alleging severe labor violations, and offering glances into the secretive and manipulative world of professional cheerleading: mandatory diets; forced beauty regimens paid out of pocket; countless hours of work for which the super-rich teams they cheered for refused to pay them.
*The first two teams mentioned in the article are subjects of a current lawsuit—the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints.
Here’s a bit more from the article:
Goodell’s belief in the importance of compensating cheerleaders (which he recently stated) had not been evident in previous years. His own signature appears on this 2009 contract between the Buffalo Bills and its broadcast affiliate, Citadel Broadcasting, in which it was stipulated that the team’s cheerleaders would not be paid for the eight-plus hours they spent working game days. They would also be subject to intensive control of their behavior and appearance by the Bills. They would additionally be subject to the rules and regulations of the NFL. They would not hold the league or the team responsible for any harm that befell them while working for the team. They would not be, as Goodell claimed in his Super Bowl 50 press conference, employees of the team. The NFL is also named as a defendant in the ongoing suit against the Bills.
A recent New York Times articleoutlined some of the demands in the “employee handbooks”:
Cheerleaders for the Carolina Panthers, known as the TopCats, must arrive at the stadium on game days at least five hours before kickoff. Body piercings and tattoos must be removed or covered. Water breaks can be taken only when the Panthers are on offense. TopCats must leave the stadium to change into their personal attire.
Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders were subject to regular weigh-ins and are expected to “maintain ideal body weight,” according to a handbook from 2009. The Cincinnati Ben-Gals were even more precise in recent years: Cheerleaders had to be within three pounds of their “ideal weight.”
Some cheerleaders must pay hundreds of dollars for their uniforms, yet are paid little more than minimum wage. Cheerleaders must sell raffle tickets and calendars and appear at charity events and golf tournaments, yet they receive none of the proceeds. Cheerleader handbooks, seven of which have been reviewed by The New York Times, include personal hygiene tips, like shaving techniques and the proper use of tampons. In some cases, wearing sweatpants in public is forbidden.
Other rules include exceedingly strict non-fraternization rules (one team stipulates that a dancer may not even make eye contact with a player,) and mandatory outside engagements.
As the Times stated:
Across the N.F.L., teams even try to place extensive controls on how cheerleaders conduct their lives outside work. This includes limiting their social media activity as well as the people they choose to date and socialize with. Restrictions are placed on their nail polish and jewelry.
But wait, it gets worse. An even more recentNew York Times article revealed the following:
When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.
For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.
A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.
After the shoot finished, some of the women were told to go change and accompany the men for the evening. Although nothing strictly illegal took place, if you will, this still sounds uncomfortably like human trafficking to me.
The team has probably changed its policies, now that this has come out, or is in the process of doing so. But the whole thing is shameful, and I’m even more proud to be a Steelers fan.
And speaking of the Steelers, on to the actual Steelers news.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first
1) Le’Veon Bell has released another rap track. It is subtly titled “Target” and in it he takes a pot shot at pretty much everything connected with the Steelers, including their fans. Tim Benz of the Trib has a “review” of the track, with rebuttals of essentially every sentiment expressed, and with a bonus video of Terry Bradshaw singing “Jambalaya.” He begins:
As you might have read in this space in early April, Bell has made himself a victim before. He posted a tweet that read: “It’s so hard to be a hero in a city that tries to paint you out to be a villain.”
His latest song is a longer version of that same thought.
“I’m being made into a target. I’m being looked at as a bad guy, and it’s everybody else’s fault but mine.”
Here’s the actual lead-in to the song (aside from shooting noises and so on:)
I don’t know what they call it out here
This hatin’ and talkin,’ I guess that makes me a target
I see that they wanna judge me by what goes in my wallet
I ball like I’m Ben Wallace, I can’t do a thing about it, oh
I would like to try my hand at a rebuttal, but Ima gonna rhyme mine for real (or is that “mines?”)
I don’t know what they call it out there
But here in the real world it don’t sound fair.
A man gettin’ two times the goin’ rate
And whinin’ ’bout how it ain’t triple the gate.
(And other obligatory sounds and beats.)
I could go on but you get the idea. Bell is in the unfortunate position of being a running back, and he’s correct that he “can’t do a thing about it, oh.” Storytime, boys and girls.
Many of you know that in my former life I was a professional musician. Not a rapper or any other sort of music that makes you actual money, but a classical musician. I’m married to an engineer/scientist/whatever you want to call a research metallurgist.
Some years ago I was writing grant proposals for two small non-profits I was involved with. This was in the days before the internet. All proposals had to be printed out, (and they were typically 15-20 pages long), xeroxed (10 copies were required of each, I think it was), collated and stapled, and submitted before the deadline. This was in New Mexico, where money for such things was very slim.
As it happened, the two principal funders had application deadlines a week apart one year, so on the day I got the last of the four proposals out to the door I was pretty shattered. My husband, who had recently gotten into the proposal business for his employer, came home and asked why I was so frazzled. I explained the situation, and he asked me how much money I thought I was going to get out of these proposals, assuming they were funded (because they never gave you as much as you asked for.) I allowed as how I might get a total of around five or six thousand dollars between the four proposals. He then said “Really? It’s not worth my time to make a phone call for under $100,000.” It is possible I did not receive this news well.
But in the end I was perfectly aware that, fair or not, the world values what he does more than what I do. Vastly more, actually. Is it reasonable that the value of one of his current research grants probably greatly exceeds the sum total of all the money I ever raised via proposal writing over a career spanning more than thirty years? Depends on who you ask.
If I had wanted to make a lot of money at what I did, I probably would have chosen a different field. If Le’Veon Bell was so concerned about maximizing his NFL income, perhaps he should have been something other than a running back. Like, say, a quarterback. Just a thought.
Am I in the crowd that says they are all being paid ridiculous sums of money? No. I don’t propose to go out there and let large men hit me for a living, and if they can make lots of money doing that, more power to them. And it is worth remembering that most of them will have medical issues after they play which may even prevent them from working in some other field after they finish their NFL career. But to decide you should be paid not just more but multiples of more than anyone else at your position has ever made seems unrealistic to me. Sorry, Lev, not tryin’ to be a hater, just pragmatic. If you are a target, you put it squarely on your own back.
2) There’s more bad news—a bit more seriously bad, especially for the guys involved. Both Jerald Hawkins and Jake McGee went down with what look to be pretty serious injuries yesterday. McGee’s is possibly an Achilles, and while the only word on Hawkins was that it was a knee injury, other players reported that he was screaming with pain, which doesn’t sound very promising. Anything that makes a football player scream must be pretty intense. (It has just been reported to be a torn quad.) As Ivan discussed in Wednesday’s post, injuries are always the wild card. They can strike at any time. Let’s hope these young men dodged a bullet—not Le’Veon’s sort of bullet, but a real one…
And finally, the fun news. The first bit is the new “throwbacks”—they’re terrific. The picture heading the post is Ju-Ju (of course) modeling it for the unveiling. Good look for both of them…
As far as actual football stuff, there’s this as well. One of the players I was hoping the Steelers would take in the late rounds of the draft, and many had mocked to the Steelers, was the rugby player from Australia. They didn’t draft him, but they did get an English rugby player instead. There was a nice article about him in the Trib a few days ago, and I like the sound of him. But I especially like the part where the Steelers get a roster exemption for him because he is part of the International Pathways program. So if they think he has any promise at all, they can keep him and consequently get a 54th roster spot. Sounds like a win/win to me!
Christian Scotland-Williamson (what a great name, too, although I’m not sure Dave Barry would like it for a band) also sounds like a winner. And, ironically, his first exposure to American football was the 2008 Super Bowl, and consequently he started following the Steelers. So he thinks it is pretty surreal that he ended up in Pittsburgh.
My favorite quote from the article was as follows:
From the player’s point of view, there is always that rugby thing to fall back, right?…Scotland-Williamson, though, is not allowing himself to think that way.
“That’s the thing: You can’t dip your toe into this,” he said of football. “I have left rugby behind. You can’t come in to such a competitive environment thinking you are not going to succeed because you might as well not do it.
I wouldn’t have gotten on the plane if I didn’t think I could be a genuine NFL player.”
Welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Scotland-Williamson. We look forward to watching your development, and sincerely hope you will indeed become a genuine NFL player.
Although if you do, we may have to run a nickname contest, because my carpal tunnel is going to kick up if I have to type “Scotland-Williamson” too often. Which would be a great problem to have!