National Football League cheerleaders volunteer. They receive a puny per-game honorarium, but nothing for their many hours of rehearsal, or the use of their images for promotion. Can this be squared with basic principles of fairness?
It cannot, but people will try. The cheerleaders have such glamorous jobs! They are adored, and treated like royalty, or at least Kardashians! They get to date football players, and you know how hot and rich they are, at least until they become senile in their fifties! Most of all, the competition for the cheerleader squads is fierce! They don’t want to be paid! The job is its own reward!
Weak. Athletes are paid mega-millions of dollars to play the same games they played for years as recreation. Actors receive union-dictated salaries for engaging in the same activities they fought like dogs to do for free in high school, college and community theater. The standard mantra is that joy and fulfillment in life arrives when you are fortunate enough to be paid for doing what you love, not to be allowed to do what you love so someone else will make a lot of money, while you get dates. The NFL is a money machine, generating billions and paying its management, employees and contractors very well, but they “allow” young women to significantly enhance the NFL brand and product for little or nothing. The word for this is exploitation. The NFL does it because it can, and the women put up with it because, well, they enjoy it.
The correct analogy is unpaid for-profit corporation internships. College and graduate school degree holders are willing to indenture themselves for experience, contacts and resume enhancement, and profitable companies, led by six and seven figure-making executives, are perfectly content to take advantage of the desperation and give nothing bankable back for tangible value. The practice has been successfully challenged in court, but that is a separate issue: it’s not just illegal, it is wrong.
It’s obviously wrong. The principle that we are obligated to fairly compensate those who give us value by their talent and effort is the reason we tip waiters, give money to street musicians and bonuses to IRS agents even when they haven’t paid their own taxes; the fact that they enjoy their labors (or not) is irrelevant. For the National Football League, with its billions, to pay virtually nothing for the time their cheerleaders devote to giving NFL fans and cameramen something to gawk at and keep under their mattresses is cheap, exploitive, and unethical. The fact that they can get away with it—something professional sports teams cannot do with the far less comely and popular costumed mascots that make stadiums look like theme parks—is no justification at all.