Five former NFL cheerleaders are suing the Houston Texans for alleged harassment and unfair pay, according to CNN. The lawsuit was filed by Gloria Allred, a prominent civil rights lawyer who recently represented 33 of the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.
"These women all had the same dream: They all aspired to be an integral part of the Houston Texans, and they looked forward to promoting the team," Allred said at a press conference on June 1. "But their dreams were shattered by the reality of their lives as Houston Texans cheerleaders."
The former cheerleaders were part of the squad as recently as the 2017 season, according to CNN. They're each filing individual lawsuits. The allegations are similar to those made recently by other NFL cheerleaders: Harassment, bullying, and incredibly low pay.
"We were harassed, we were bullied, and we were body-shamed for $7.25 an hour," said former cheerleader Ainsley Parish, who's among the five that are suing. Another former cheerleader, Hannah Turnbow, says she was allegedly assaulted by a fan and told to "suck it up and act like nothing happened."
These five women join three other former cheerleaders to the Houston Texans who filed a class-action lawsuit in late May. The class-action suit also alleges unfair pay and harassment by coach Altovise Gary.
Allegations from the class-action lawsuit are similar to those on the individual lawsuits most recently filed on June 1. The class-action suit alleges that several cheerleaders reported being physically assaulted by fans during the 2017 season, but coach Gary didn't take steps to report the assaults or make sure the cheerleaders were safe. There are also allegations that Gary made comments about cheerleaders' weight and bodies, telling women on the squad that they had "belly jelly."
One particularly damning allegation from the class-action lawsuit claims that Gary once took a cheerleader to a secluded area of the stadium and duct taped her stomach skin underneath her shorts:
"We are proud of the cheerleader program and have had hundreds of women participate and enjoy their experience while making a positive impact in the local community," said Amy Palcic, the Texans' vice president of communications, in a statement to Cosmopolitan.com. "We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone."
Unfortunately, none of these allegations from former Texans cheerleaders are especially new or surprising. In an anonymous essay for Cosmopolitan.com, a former NFL cheerleader wrote about being told to lose weight until she reached a "dangerously low body fat." She also disclosed that she made only $3,000 during the 2006 season and netted only about $300 of that after paying necessary expenses for things like makeup and stylists.
A recent TIME report on the lives of NFL cheerleaders turned up zero official answers about cheerleader wages, but noted that pay is generally so minimal that there's been a wave of lawsuits alleging teams are breaking the law by paying below the federal minimum wage of $7.25. These lawsuits have all ended differently. The Buffalo Bills dropped its cheerleaders altogether, while the Oakland Raiders agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle an unfair wages lawsuit.
The reportedly low wages earned by cheerleaders are especially damning when compared to the salaries of the players they're cheering for. According to the Hollywood Reporter, while cheerleaders are earning between $75 and $150 on the sidelines, the players on the field earn an average of $1.3 million per game. And, last I checked, cheerleaders don't do nearly as much sitting around as the players do during each game.
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