|The Jills - cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills - were paid nothing|
NFL CEO Roger Goodell knew nothing. Not his department.
by Michael Powell
"The Buffalo Bills, however, stand out as the only one of these teams that insists cheerleaders kick and dance in heat and arctic cold for zip. Cash-flow problems have nothing to do with it. Terry and Kim Pegula, who made their fortune in fracking, recently purchased the Bills for $1.4 billion. That is the highest price yet paid for a league franchise. The Pegulas are big donors to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. New York State contributed tens of millions to rehabilitate the team’s stadium before the Pegulas took over. Now there is pressure for the state to fork over for a new stadium. No doubt I am unfair to place these facts in the same paragraph.
Faced with the lawsuit, the Bills disbanded the Jills for this season. A team spokesman emailed me that the Bills appreciated this “ancillary service” provided by “third-party vendors.” Its statement complained of “allegations” that “attempt to give the impression that our organization employs cheerleaders.” Impressions can be so unfair.
The Bills, however, might not have helped their case much by keeping the Jills’ calendar-release video on the team website. The case is now before Justice Timothy Drury of State Supreme Court, and no trial date has been set. But the judge has ruled that the team set the terms and approved contracts for the Jills. “These facts are further indication of the control the Bills exercised over the Jills,” he wrote.
The Jills’ subcontractor, Stejon Productions, readily acknowledges that it is a front operation. “The Bills control everything, from the moves to the uniforms to the dances,” said Dennis Vacco, the lawyer for Stejon. “The Bills have a long history here of wanting their cake and eating it too.”
A Jill’s life can shine an unforgiving light on fraught questions of gender in the N.F.L. Alyssa and her friend Maria loved to dance, and their faces lighted up as they recalled performing before tens of thousands of fans.
Their jobs could swing just as fast into the land of the humiliating. The women were required to attend a “Men Show” at one casino and a Jills calendar release party that started at midnight at another casino. The women walked amid men who leered and grabbed. The National Football League, as is its practice, has little to say on the question of uncompensated work by these high-profile women. Goodell offered his patented I-know-nothing routine. “I have no knowledge,” he wrote in an affidavit, of the Jills’ “selection, training, compensation and/or pay practices.”
A contract surfaced that laid out the terms and was signed by Goodell. A league lawyer asserted that Goodell’s signature was affixed by a stamp. Alyssa and Maria shook their heads. They have resolved not to return to the Jills, even if the squad is brought back. “It came down to this,” Alyssa said. “What self-worth do I have? I am 100 percent happy with myself without this.” You wonder if the Bills owners and N.F.L. commissioner can say as much of themselves."
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