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"It Hurts My Feelings That Other Raiderettes Want to Call Me Names"
Elise Craig | Photo: Ramin Rahimian | August 4, 2014
On the eve of football season, the Norma Rae of the NFL explains her labor suit against the Raiders.
This is "Think Tank," an occasional series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Job: Stay-at-home mon, ex-NFL cheerleader.
Last year you sued the Raiders, alleging unfair labor practices during your time as a Raiderette. Why?
It was always my goal to dance in the NFL and the NBA: I loved sports, I loved to dance. I did two seasons with the Warriors and then wanted to give it a go in the NFL. But by midseason, I was feeling extremely frustrated—not only for me but for all my teammates. I had numerous conversations with the other girls, trying to feel them out about how we were paid. They were all as frustrated as I was. I knew I had to do something about it.
But presumably you were told about pay—$1,250 for the entire season— before you signed. Right?
Actually, you don’t really find out about the pay until after you’ve made the team. I read the contract, and I did realize that we weren’t going to get paid for practices and weren’t going to get paid until the end of the season. But they tell you that there are lots of opportunities to get paid appearances. So you’re thinking—at least I was thinking—“OK, I may not make a lot of money at practices, but I’m sure I’ll get appearances and make money elsewhere.” But that’s not the case whatsoever. I started performing my duties, and before the season even began, I was spending money constantly on transportation, photos, hair and makeup. The Warriors always reimbursed me if I had to travel during an appearance—I didn’t have any out-of-pocket expenses. It was a big difference. So I brought my contract to a lawyer.
You’ve been called a “bitter Betty” by some former Raiderettes.
That was tough. My experience as a Raiderette this past year—it was great. I made friends. I enjoyed my time on the field. Game days were amazing. The issue was that the Raiders did not pay 40 women for the hours that they worked. Does it make me a bitter Betty to stand up and say, “Look, it’s not right”? It hurts my feelings that other Raiderettes want to call me names. But I do understand, in a way: If they were to come forward and support me, maybe they wouldn’t be on the team next season. I’m fighting for everyone, regardless of whether they want to speak up or not. I’m hoping that eventually they’ll know I’m doing the right thing.
Some might say that cheerleading is a demeaning job anyway—did you expect to be paid well?
I signed a contract with the Oakland Raiders, and therefore I should be paid at least minimum wage for every single hour that I work. It doesn’t matter what the job is. I could be the mascot. I could sell snow cones. The Raiderettes bring in money for the organization. We should be paid for our time. It’s the law.
When the team held auditions for the Raiderettes in June, the announcement said that the cheerleaders are an important part of the Raiders family. Do you buy that?
I do. But the team’s actions in the past haven’t shown that. I think that they’re doing the right thing in terms of having auditions again. This season, the Raiders are going to be paying all the girls for everything—practices, appearances, games—$9 an hour. That’s a huge improvement. That was my main goal going in. And a lot of girls have already been paid on other teams. Things like that make me proud that I did what I did. I have absolutely no regrets.
Originally published in out August issue.