The editorial board of the Orange County Register decided to kick off 2016 by going full 1916. How did a paper of record turn the clocks back so? By questioning the motives of professional cheerleaders who are seeking employee (rather than independent contractor) status. The Register suggests that “they receive the fringe benefits of being surrounded by men who earn on average $1.9 million in the NFL and $5 million in the NBA” and should thus shut their damsel traps. The article still exists but has been amended. Luckily, Awful Announcing and We Party Patriots favorite Rep. Lorena Gonzalez caught the original print.
Gonzalez is the sponsor of California AB202, which requires professional sports teams to classify cheerleaders as employees instead of independent contractors. AB202 was passed in May and went into effect on January 1, 2016. The move makes cheerleaders eligible for labor protections such as the minimum wage, mandated sick leave, and proper reimbursement for expenses. A series of lawsuits against pro sports teams have claimed that many professional cheerleaders are often paid below the minimum wage and often they receive their pay late.
Gonzalez, along with New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, touched on the lawsuits in a September 2015 New York Times op-ed:
In just the last two years, professional cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have filed wage theft lawsuits against their respective teams, alleging labor violations including misclassification, meaning that some cheerleaders were treated as independent contractors, not as employees, and therefore didn’t receive the wages or benefits they deserved. (So far, the Raiders and Buccaneers have settled lawsuits by agreeing to pay more than $2 million in back wages.)
These recent complaints reveal a pattern of abuse, including failure to pay in a timely manner or at all, failure to reimburse for mandatory expenses or to adhere to basic requirements under state labor laws, and unlawful deductions from earnings, including penalties for minor infractions such as forgetting pompoms.
Throughout the fight for professional cheerleaders to be classified as proper employees there has been a condescending and regressive stance taken by a small minority. However, no news outlet has gone so far into the backwards/sexist realm as the Register did here. Redacting the comment doesn’t make it disappear (not in 2016!). A stain will remain on the op-ed board for the near-future, at least.