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Go Jills

June 8, 2015

It’s barely relevant to the main point we’re trying to make, and it probably has a weird TMI quality to it, but we never wanted our daughters to be cheerleaders.  When we heard that they wanted to try out for a cheerleading team, we cringed.

“Honey, why do you want to do that? Why don’t you play a sport and tell the boys to be the cheerleaders?”

Then came “the look.” All parents know this look – it’s as if you’re from another planet.

Thankfully, our girls never got involved in cheerleading.  They did play sports. They really got into it and were good at it.  They learned other things too – like how to bait their own hooks and shoot a .22 and change the oil in the lawn mower. And we’re proud of the fact that they are competent in a range of supposedly manly areas.

Getting to the point now: There’s a bill in the State Assembly that takes up the cause of the Buffalo Jills and other cheerleaders for professional sports teams.

The sponsor of this legislation is Assembly Member Nilly Rozik of Queens and she makes a point that’s hard to argue with: How can the Jills not be paid minimum wage for what they do?

Ms. Rozik speaks passionately about this issue, but not with intimate knowledge of the realities of professional sports. For example, in a recent interview, she asserted that the Bills “make billions of dollars” and that they certainly can afford to pay a proper wage to the Jills.

The Bills don’t employ the cheerleaders, however. The Jills are, in effect, a troupe of entertainers that are allowed, pursuant to an agreement between the team and the troupe’s management, to perform at the stadium.  As it turns out, the cheerleaders not only aren’t paid a wage, they have to pay for costumes and other expenses.  It all might seem a bit unfair, and yet every year, hundreds of young women try out for the Jills, apparently hoping to be an ancillary part of the exciting world of professional football.

Another more searing reality that all Western New Yorkers know about is that the Bills don’t make billions. Buffalo is a very, very small media market – no where near as lucrative as other markets. The perennial fear is that the team will bolt for a bigger city. In fact, this almost happened last year when Jon Bon Jovi headed a group of investors who wanted to move the team to Toronto.  Politicians from Chuck Schumer to Andrew Cuomo fought to retain the team in New York.

Ms. Rozik also doesn’t seem to know that it is not essential for the Bills to have cheerleaders. In fact, if the Jills’ situation becomes a significant problem, say they are forced to assume direct responsibility for the Jills and pay their wages, the team might decide to eliminate cheerleaders altogether.  Now, pretty much everyone wants the team to work something out to retain the Jills, but if the Bills don’t want to do it, there’s no requirement that they must.  The Giants and six other teams in the NFL have no cheerleaders, and each team seems to do quite nicely without them.

Yet another aspect of Ms. Rozik’s well-intentioned appeal that gives us pause is when she goes on at length about demands on the Jills by the third party vendor, a group known as Citadel Productions. Jills have to watch their weight. They have to be well-groomed. They are even counseled (by the woman manager of the troupe) on matters of feminine hygiene. This is, of course, a shock to women in the normal workplace. In fact, Susan Arbetter, whom we respect and admire as a journalist, expressed incredulity when she heard about it from Rozik, but we maintain that this is not an outrageous thing at all. The Jills are routinely featured in close-ups during the televised games, and not to be fully presentable (in their skimpy costumes) would be… ahem… a problem.

Lastly, when Ms. Rozik equates the Jills to professional athletes, saying that the Jills are really “cheer-letes,” deserving of a similar level of respect, it’s … well…it’s silly.

And yet, all of these reservations recorded, we do respect Ms. Rozik and believe that something ought to be done to improve the lot of the Jills, if not through legislation, then by having the Bills management and the production company be more accommodating.

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