This past week, HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel focused a story on the wave of cheerleader lawsuits in the NFL, especially with Lacy T of the Raiderettes and Alyssa U and Maria of the Jills. Andrea Kremer talked with Lacy in Oakland as well as with Alyssa, Maria, and Jills director Stephanie Mateczun.
The segment started off with a talk with Lacy, who loved performing and sports and wound up cheering in college and for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA before joining up with the Oakland Raiderettes. Once she made the squad, she felt she was on top of the world at first. After a while, her feelings changed.
Andrea then talked to Alyssa and Maria, each of whom went into debt to pay for their uniforms and other squad-related expenses. Alyssa even used her student loan money to pay for her uniform. They described the jiggle test to Andrea and even put on a demonstration of it, relating how they felt when doing it in front of their peers and squad management.
Despite the financial issues, they did it for the love of cheering and stuck it out to honor the commitments they made when making the squad. The Buffalo Men's Show was brought up, during which some members of the squad participated in a bikini fashion show. It turns out that some of the girls were groped while doing that and were quite frightened by the experience. According to the legal complaint, more groping happened at the Calendar Release Party held at Turning Stone Casino last fall.
One thing brought up was how much your typical NFL Mascot makes, upwards of $35K. In the most popular and wealthy sports league on Earth, there's plenty of money to go around, a lot more of which could go to the cheerleaders when you consider all the work they put in in support of the teams in the areas of entertainment and public relations.
Andrea Kremer didn't stop with the plaintiffs as, even though the teams involved in these lawsuits refused to speak with her on the matter, Jills director Stephanie Mateczun was willing to be interviewed. In it, she talked about how her company, Stejon Productions, was run, a company formed after she successfully lobbied Entercom Communications to let her form to control the squad. She also related how anyone not happy with how things are done on the squad could leave at any time, which some have done over the years. Of course any money spent by the girls on uniforms and the like has always been non-refundable.
Finishing up, Bryant and Andrea touched on what the NFL wants to do this season, allowing fans to request cheerleaders come visit them in their seats, something that could, IMO, cause some serious problems safety-wise for the girls.
When it comes to the Jills lawsuit, Alyssa and Maria stated their ultimate goal is to form a union, by which cheerleaders could work together to ensure fair treatment and compensation. Most squads are under direct control of the teams they represent and that number is growing. The Gold Rush Cheerleaders are outsourced to a private company like the Jills have been, but the 49ers organization plans to change that while other NFL teams, like the Vikings, are working to improve the compensation they pay the girls in their organizations.
The fact of the matter is, the Buffalo Jills once had a union, back in the mid-1990's but when they were looking for a new sponsor, the only way Salvatore's Italian Gardens would take them on was if they dropped the union.
Personally, I've been staying neutral on the whole suit. I wasn't working closely with the squad in 2012 and 2013 when most of the allegations took place and even while Citadel radio and Cumulus media had control of the squad and I was more involved, I stayed out of the in-depth stuff and just did what I could to support the squad, including the girls on the squad through photography, blogging, and watching out for their safety when I could.
Regarding the "jiggle test," which Stephanie Mateczun admits to running, it's apparently a new thing as Jills alum Stephanie B (2007-09), in an interview on WHAM-TV in April, said it was something that she never did. While it's definitely important that the girls have to be in shape to perform on the field, one has to wonder why the change in procedure, especially if the new procedure was uncomfortable for the girls. If the old way they determined field-readiness was working to everyone's satisfaction, it seems unnecessary to change it.
As for the groping allegations, I know that I never saw any while I photographed those bikini fashion shows at the Men's Show and at Calendar Release parties over the years. That being said, I was never able to see everything that was going on as I was trying to get photos taken. I know in the past, when Calendar Release Parties were held from 2005-2009 in Buffalo, there was at least some security keeping an eye on things like that. I'm not sure what happened when they held that Calendar Release Party in the Syracuse area in 2013 however. If anyone was misbehaving and groping anyone, they should've been escorted out immediately. At Club New York, at the 2007 Calendar Release party, I think I can guarantee that the owner would've thrown anyone out caught pulling any of that. The worst thing I saw was in 2008 when a photographer from a local website took some photos he shouldn't have. I didn't even see that until the next day when I was working on photos. The following year, I ensured that didn't happen again by making sure I was where he had been and he was elsewhere, ensuring every photo I took was one that the girls approved of.
Finally, I think the whole idea of "ordering cheerleaders" to your seats is dangerous to say the least. Bringing them into the stands around a whole bunch of drunks puts their safety at risk, even if they do have security with them. After the Jills swimsuit calendars debuted in 2000, members of the squad were out in the lots before games selling them but after a few years, that practice was put at an end for safety reasons. As it is many squads have Ambassadors who aren't on the field during the game but instead, visiting suites. Suites are generally a little bit more under control than the stands with security on hand. Putting the girls in the stands could backfire with more lawsuits filed by cheerleaders or with complaints from other fans trying to watch the game but disrupted from doing so.
I think Real Sports did a great job showing both sides of the issue but I also feel a lot more could've been talked about. Alyssa and Maria recently did an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine that will be featured in the September, 2014 issue, which hits newsstands in mid-August and I imagine it will be more in-depth.
Note:the majority of the video I included in this article did not appear on the show itself but was put up on the HBO Sports YouTube page as an add-on to the TV segment.