When Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields demanded truthful wages and remedy for cheerleaders, she sparked a revolution within the NFL.
Rising up in Louisiana, Lacy Thibodeaux-Fields dreamed of being a cheerleader. In 2013, that got here true when she was picked for the Raiderettes – the cheerleading staff for the then Oakland Raiders.
However the dream would quickly flip bitter.
After 18 years of coaching, Thibodeaux-Fields claims she shortly found she was anticipated to work for lower than the minimal wage, with out further compensation for obligatory coaching periods or bills associated to public appearances.
In 2014, she determined to take a stand, bringing a lawsuit in opposition to the Raiders over employment legal guidelines. Over the following 4 years, a number of different cheerleaders throughout the US took motion in opposition to different NFL groups, alleging wage theft, gender discrimination and harassment.
In a brand new movie, A Girl’s Work, director Yu Gu follows the story of Thibodeaux-Fields and fellow cheerleader Maria Pinzone, who has an ongoing lawsuit alongside 73 different cheerleaders in opposition to the Buffalo Payments and their former cheerleading staff, the Buffalo Jills.
Yu and Thibodeaux-Fields spoke to BBC Sport in regards to the movie, the lawsuits, and the affect on the ladies concerned.
‘For those who do that, you might by no means dance once more’
Thibodeaux-Fields says that one of many issues she can not bear is the considered anybody disliking her – so why tackle the NFL – one of the widespread sporting organisations within the US?
It was not a call she took evenly.
She says: “Once I met my legal professionals for the primary time, they mentioned: ‘Lacy, when you resolve to do that, it’s essential to perceive that you could be by no means dance once more.'”
Dancing had been Thibodeaux-Fields’ entire life. After graduating from Louisiana Tech College, she joined the cheerleading staff at NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors, the place she says she was paid pretty.
However the season was strenuous, with 42 dwelling video games, and Thibodeaux-Fields already had a full-time job. The NFL appeared like an ideal choice for the younger mom.
“It had a shorter season… I would nonetheless be capable to dance within the evenings… it was going to be the dream job,” she says.
Of greater than 600 girls to audition, Thibodeaux-Fields was considered one of 40 to make the staff.
“I cherished my new team-mates and I simply needed to offer it my all,” she says.
‘You guys are fortunate to be right here’
She says she quickly found the staff have been anticipated to place in gruelling hours of coaching, with out further compensation.
“If you do not get chosen to bounce a sport – say you are a few kilos obese – then you do not get paid for that sport,” she says.
Pinzone recounts comparable experiences on the Buffalo Jills. She describes within the movie a tradition of worry – doing “jiggle assessments” to verify weight earlier than video games.
Thibodeaux-Fields actually started to have misgivings when she says she realised she was anticipated to cowl bills associated to obligatory public appearances – together with magnificence therapies. She says she was even advised which salon she ought to use; it was no less than an hour and a half from her dwelling.
“There have been a number of little issues like that that stored including up – travelling for the calendar shoot, or discovering out you have been going to have to remain someplace for the weekend and make preparations,” she says.
“I’d carry points up with individuals in my specific group and my captain.
“We have been advised: ‘You guys are so fortunate to be right here, it’s essential to cherish this second.'”
‘Extra unlawful than any contract I do know of’
Thibodeaux-Fields claims her contract said that cheerleaders can be paid $125 (£90) per sport they labored, or $5 per hour. The federal minimal wage on the time was $7.25 per hour.
She additionally claims the contract said cheerleaders wouldn’t obtain any pay for the primary 9 months.
Thibodeaux-Fields says that was not made clear sufficient at induction, so she and her husband contacted a lawyer.
Sharon Vinick was the employment lawyer who obtained a duplicate of the contract.
Talking within the movie, Vinick describes her response on the time: “There are extra provisions in right here which can be unlawful then any contract I do know of.”
One of many key questions was whether or not the Raiderettes have been workers or freelancers.
Darci Burrell, one other employment lawyer, tells the movie: “The contract spells out nearly instantly that they are really workers and, because of this, they need to be getting paid for each single hour that they work.”
It was after Thibodeaux-Fields filed the lawsuit that she met movie director Yu.
Yu advised us she had grow to be obsessive about American soccer tradition while learning movie manufacturing on the College of California.
She examine Thibodeaux-Fields’ lawsuit within the Los Angeles Instances, and arrange a gathering.
‘The historical past of the ladies’s motion is about individuals coming collectively’
Yu’s preliminary pitch was to comply with Thibodeaux-Fields all through her each day life. Over 4 years, she captured the start of three kids, and a transfer to London.
And all of the whereas extra lawsuits in opposition to NFL groups have been taken out.
By September 2020, the movie states that 10 of the 26 NFL groups with cheerleaders had been sued for wage theft, unsafe work circumstances, sexual harassment and discrimination.
“To start with I assumed this was simply going to be about one lady – her as a single protagonist,” Yu says. “However then I noticed all these different girls becoming a member of her and there was a sort of magnificence in that, that I needed to mirror.
“Once you have a look at the historical past of the ladies’s motion within the US, it is about individuals coming collectively. That is what this story is about as effectively.”
‘I would all the time felt like feminism was a unfavorable phrase’
In a single scene, Thibodeaux-Fields describes initially scuffling with the phrase ‘feminist’.
“I am from a really conservative, Bible-belt a part of Louisiana and I would all the time felt like feminism was a unfavorable phrase,” she says.
“As I began to develop, I understood a bit of bit extra. Feminism is strictly what I am doing, saying: ‘I am right here, it would not matter what you consider me, I’ve performed a job for you and also you owe me.'”
However not all of Thibodeaux-Fields’ team-mates – or former Raiderettes – supported her, and the movie reveals examples of the unfavorable press she obtained.
“They should bear in mind why they’re there,” says one former cheerleader within the movie. “It’s a privilege and a part of a sisterhood.”
Yu calls this internalised misogyny.
“Ladies traditionally have been second-class residents,” says the director. “That is the construction we have been introduced up in. We’ve all internalised that construction in some methods. As girls, you are compelled to adapt.”
Groups change their contracts
The lawsuit filed by Thibodeaux-Fields in January 2014 sought again pay and wages for herself and 90 present and former Raiderettes.
In July 2014, the Raiders offered new contracts for the 40 members of their cheerleading staff, which means they’d earn $9 per hour and be paid for all hours they labored.
In September that yr, eight months after the lawsuit was filed, the staff made a settlement of $1.25m (£900,000) to the ladies in Thibodeaux-Fields’ lawsuit.
Thibodeaux-Fields believes her case, and the opposite lawsuits filed, have impressed change throughout the NFL.
“I had cheerleaders from a few of these groups contact me and say: ‘You do not know me, however we have simply been given new contracts.'”
However Yu is pissed off it hasn’t gone additional.
“There has nonetheless but to be persistently extensive change and transparency,” she says. “Any adjustments which have occurred have performed so below the desk and for particular person groups.”
Pinzone’s lawsuit in opposition to the Payments is ongoing. Within the movie, she voices frustration at makes an attempt from the staff to supply what she describes as low-ball settlements.
“The very fact they thought we’d settle for one thing so low reveals what they consider us: that we’re nothing,” she says.
How culpable is the NFL?
The movie explores the query of how a lot energy the NFL, and commissioner Roger Goodell, had over cheerleading groups’ contracts.
“Roger Goodell indicators off on our contracts, so it is sort of understood that he’s conscious or supportive of the issues that they put in entrance of him, I’d hope,” Thibodeaux-Fields says.
“Once you’re on the staff, you are a part of the NFL.”
An NFL spokesperson advised BBC Sport: “For groups which have cheerleaders, the league has no position of their choice, duties, hours or wages.” They added there was no dialogue round altering that place.
The Raiders, now relocated to Las Vegas, have additionally been approached for remark by the BBC.
Thibodeaux-Fields now lives in Florida and her dancing, she says, is at present restricted to the home.
Trying again, she is pleased with the position she has performed in battling for girls’s rights.
“After 2018, with the Me Too motion, America lastly began having these actually nice conversations about girls within the office that I used to be having in 2015. It is actually cool to consider myself as being forward of the time.”