2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem
“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” (Photo by Samanta Helou-Hernandez)

“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem”

Directed by Yu Gu

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Being a cheerleader for the National Football League might look glamorous on the outside, but the harsh reality on the inside is that NFL cheerleaders are often being paid below minimum-wage salaries, if they are being paid at all. In fact, being an NFL cheerleader is a job where the employer makes you lose money, not make money, because the cheerleaders have to pay for work-related expenses, including trips to their teams’ football games and other team-related events; the cheerleader outfits (which are work uniforms); and the photo shoots they do for their team calendars—all without reimbursement from their teams or the NFL. And to make matters worse, the cheerleaders have to wait until the football season is over before they are paid their insultingly low salaries. Meanwhile, NFL team mascots (who are usually male) and waterboys are paid a lot more than cheerleaders, even though NFL teams use cheerleaders a lot more than mascots to sell team merchandise and to attract fans to games and other team events.

“A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” is a superb documentary that exposes the entrenched system that refuses to fairly compensate cheerleaders for the work that they do. Many NFL teams require that their cheerleaders sign contracts allowing teams to set the rules of employment. But, depending on the state, the contract might be illegal if the cheerleader is considered an employee rather than an independent contractor/freelancer. The bottom line is that NFL cheerleaders (who are almost always female) are literally the poster children for some of the worst gender-based salary gaps in the United States. They are the lowest-paid football employees at NFL games.

Because cheerleaders have an image of being there as eye candy, many people assume that cheerleaders exist to appeal mostly to men. But considering that women are attending more football games than ever before, and there are countless young girls who aspire to be cheerleaders, it’s an issue that should be of concern to NFL fans, regardless of a fan’s gender, and a wake-up call for how fans want to support their teams with their money.

The documentary focuses on two former NFL cheerleaders who are among those leading the fight to change the system so that NFL teams will begin paying market-rate compensation to their cheerleaders for their work. Both women have filed landmark lawsuits that have brought many of these issues to the public’s attention.

Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields, a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, sued the team in 2014 for back pay that she felt was owed to her. Her class-action Raiderettes lawsuit paved the way for similar lawsuits that year. Maria Pinzone, a former Buffalo Bills cheerleader, also filed one of those similar class-action lawsuits, but her Buffalo Jills lawsuit had more defendants—the Buffalo Bills, Citadel Broadcasting (the subcontractor hired to manage the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad), Stephanie Mateczun (the Buffalo Jills alum who managed the cheerleading squad) and the NFL.

Also featured in the documentary are the legal teams for each women—Pinzone’s attorney Sean Cooney and Thibodeaux-Fields’ attorneys Leslie Levy, Sharon Vinick and Darci Burrell get the most screen time from each legal team. Lorena Gonzalez, a former Stanford University cheerleader who is now a member of the California State Assembly, is also featured as a prominent ally to cheerleaders who are fighting for a fair wage. Because lawsuits like these often take years to get resolved, Thibodeaux-Fields and Pinzone went through some major life changes during the course of filming the documentary: Thibodeaux-Fields started the movie as the mother of one child, and ended the movie as the mother of three. She and her husband also relocated from California to London when he was transferred for his job. Pinzone got married, but tragically lost her mother to breast cancer one month before her wedding.

Just like athletes, cheerleaders for professional sports teams spend years training to hone their skills. Many of them have professional experience as dancers and/or gymnasts, and they have to go through a challenging recruitment and audition process before being chosen by a team. The work they have to do for the team on and off the field is also more strenuous and demanding than what mascots are required to do—not to mention that mascots, who are usually in costume disguises, aren’t held to the same standards of beauty and physical fitness that cheerleaders are required to have. The documentary also points out that the women who have filed the lawsuits are not expecting to be paid the same salaries as athletes, but they want to be paid at least the same if not slightly more than the team mascots who do a lot less work than cheerleaders do. It blows away the myth that these are women looking to get rich from their lawsuits.

In fact, as seen in the documentary, the lawsuits come with heavy prices, financially and personally. Through candid interviews with Thibodeaux-Fields, Pinzone and other cheerleaders who have been involved in these lawsuits, it’s clear that being a cheerleader for the NFL was a dream of theirs since they were children, and they (as well as some of their family members) have had an intense loyalty to their NFL teams. But standing up for their rights meant that they had to sacrifice their NFL cheerleader dreams and important team relationships they made along the way. Their lawsuits virtually ensure that they will never work for a professional sports team again, not to mention the insults, threats and blackballing they would get in other ways. (Thibodeaux-Fields’ lawsuit has been resolved. Pinzone’s lawsuit is still pending, as of this writing.)

“A Woman’s Work” also takes a responsible approach of showing the perspectives of people who disagree with the lawsuits, including NFL fans and current and former NFL cheerleaders. (The lawsuits’ defendants aren’t interviewed—no doubt because their attorneys wouldn’t allow it—but there is some news footage of people such as Mateczun and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell mentioning the lawsuits in TV interviews. Not surprisingly, the defendants say that don’t think they did anything wrong.)

The cheerleaders who think it’s wrong to sue for a higher salary usually say that being an NFL cheerleader is a “privilege,” a “sisterhood” and a “tradition” that shouldn’t be disrupted by asking for a living wage that meets the state’s minimum standards. They also think taking legal action is destructive because it tarnishes the reputations of the football team and other cheerleaders who want nothing to do with the lawsuits. The documentary includes footage from a Raiderette reunion in Las Vegas, as well as male and female fans at football games, who have derogatory and sexist things to say about cheerleaders who dare to ask to be paid fairly for their work. The point is clear: Men should not be blamed as the only ones who want to keep the cheerleaders in their place, because women can be just as adamant in the belief that cheerleaders should accept the way it’s been done for years.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, had one of the best lines in the movie in response to this belief: “When you’re in the NFL, you’re not part of a family. You’re not in the will. You’re part of a job.”

UPDATE: PBS’s “Independent Lens” series will premiere “A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” on January 4, 2021. 1091 Pictures will release the movie on digital on January 26, 2021, and on VOD on February 2, 2021.

2018 Super Bowl: Watch Justin Timberlake videos of his Super Bowl LII press conference, preparations and performance

February 4, 2018

Grammy-winning singer Justin Timberlake is the headliner for Super Bowl LII’s halftime show, which is set to take place at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on February 4, 2018.  NBC will have the U.S. telecast.

This is Timberlake’s third time performing at a Super Bowl halftime show. In 2001, he first performed a medley with his former group *NSYNC, Britney Spears and Aerosmith at Super Bowl XXXV. In 2004 (in what has become an infamous performance), he took the stage at Super Bowl  XXXVII with Janet Jackson, who had a “wardrobe malfunction” when Timberlake ripped off part of her top, leaving her breast exposed. This led to a lot of controversy,  FCC fines and apologies from Timberlake and Jackson. (At a press conference on February 1, 2018, Timberlake emphatically said that there will be not be a *NSYNC reunion at his Super Bowl LII performance. Jackson is also not expected to be there.)

Here are videos related to Timberlake’s Super Bowl LII halftime performance:

 

2018 Super Bowl: Justin Timberlake set to headline Super Bowl LII halftime show

October 22, 2017

The following is a press release from the National Football League:

Global superstar Justin Timberlake will headline the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show on NBC at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, it was confirmed tonight.

A multi-talented actor and musician, Timberlake has won ten Grammys and numerous other awards. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he rapidly became a highly respected musician, winning two Grammys for his debut solo album, “Justified.” He’s been recognized for a range of performances, including Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Dance Recording and Best Music Video. Timberlake was most recently nominated for an Academy Award® for the song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from the film “Trolls” for which he won his 10th Grammy.

A gifted actor, Timberlake has appeared in diverse films including: Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan, Shrek The Third and The Social Network. He has also won four Emmys for his appearances on “Saturday Night Live.’ Timberlake is a co-star of the upcoming film Wonder Wheel, which opens later this year.

This will be Timberlake’s third time performing on the Super Bowl Halftime stage, giving him the distinction of having the most appearances by an individual entertainer. He previously performed at Super Bowls XXXV (with &NSYNC, Britney Spears and Aerosmith) and XXXVIII (with Janet Jackson).

his announcement is just the beginning. Leading up to Super Bowl LII, fans may visit Pepsi.com for behind-the-scenes looks into Timberlake’s journey to the Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show, as well as other surprises along the way.

Timberlake joins an esteemed list of recent halftime acts including Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Madonna, The Who, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prince, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2 and more.

The Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show is the most-watched musical event of the year. Last year’s show was the most-watched musical event of all-time across all platforms and the most-watched Super Bowl Halftime performance in history through broadcast and digital channels, reaching more than 150 million unique people, garnering more than 80 million views and totaling 260 million minutes watched. Super Bowl LII and Halftime Show will be broadcast by NBC from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota.

Super Bowl LII marks Pepsi’s sixth year as title sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show and 16th year as an NFL partner. Pepsi and the NFL have teamed again to provide fans with a halftime experience worthy of pop-culture’s biggest stage.

The Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show is an NFL Network Production and will be executive produced by Ricky Kirshner and directed by Hamish Hamilton.

Visit Pepsi.com leading up to Super Bowl LII to see what this historic Halftime Show has in store for fans. For more information about Super Bowl LII, visit SuperBowl.com.

2017 Super Bowl: Watch Lady Gaga videos of her Super Bowl LI press conference, preparations and performance

February 5, 2017

Grammy-winning singer Lady Gaga is the headliner for Super Bowl LI’s halftime show, which is set to take place at NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5, 2017.  Fox will have the U.S. telecast.

Lady Gaga performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl L in 2016. Although there has been speculation that Beyoncé (a former Super Bowl halftime performer and a Houston native) will make a surprise appearance during Lady Gaga’s performance, it’s very unlikely that Beyoncé will perform at the Super Bowl this year, since she is pregnant with twins.

Here are videos related to Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl LI’s halftime performance: