Former NFL Cheerleaders Say Peacock's New Docuseries Is Hypocritical
“They’re forgetting about these women who have been on the sidelines wanting that same respect and equality for years.”
Two former NFL cheerleaders are upset that a new docuseries about women breaking football’s glass ceiling failed to mention cheerleaders, despite their decadeslong fight for equality and recognition.
Earnin’ It: The NFL's Forward Progress, debuted on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, in late January. The show is executive produced by Jane Skinner Goodell, the wife of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. She declined an interview for this story.
The show focuses on the handful of women who have taken on referee and coaching positions in the NFL in recent years, such as Jennifer King, the assistant running backs coach of the Washington Commanders, and Sarah Thomas, the first woman to referee a Super Bowl. But it ignores the 50-plus years of work by cheerleaders who have long functioned as the league’s ambassadors and entertainers.
The lack of recognition in a series made specifically to highlight NFL women was “hypocritical,” said Cassandra Nguyen, who cheered for the 49ers from 2008 to 2011.
“They’re forgetting about these women who have been on the sidelines wanting that same respect and equality for years,” she told BuzzFeed News. “There hasn’t been much progress made at all for these women.”
Candess Correll, a former cheerleader for the Washington Commanders from 2016 to 2020, said the show’s omission of cheerleaders made her “cringe.”
Most NFL cheerleading squads are still paid minimum wage. In 2014, former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit alleging they weren’t paid for hours worked. Two days later, they were suspended, and they still haven’t been brought back. There’s no mention of that team in Earnin’ It, but the second episode focuses on Kim Pegula, the co-owner of the Buffalo Bills and the only woman of color to own and operate an NFL team.
Seeing him onscreen in a show about NFL women was deeply upsetting, said Correll, a former captain of the cheerleading squad who now works as a lead engineering technologist.
“It made me sick,” she said. “It’s honestly triggering. It’s still pretty triggering to me to have his face and his name even be affiliated with something like women's progression and more opportunity in the NFL because he has done absolutely no real work, and I say that with my chest.”
In early 2021, the Washington Commanders (then the Washington Football Team) replaced its all-women cheerleading squad with one that had both men and women after the Washington Post reported that male employees viewed seminude outtakes of the cheerleaders from their calendar shoot.
Even though cheerleaders have been part of the NFL game day experience for more than 50 years, the former cheerleaders believe the league still struggles to recognize them in any meaningful way. “I think there are a lot of proud moments in the history of the National Football League,” sports commentator Mike Tirico says during the first episode of the docuseries, “but this was everyone in America with a chance to see that women have a very significant role in the playing of the largest event in American sports.”
In the second episode of Earnin’ It, Buccaneers linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul describes Lori Locust, the Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach, as “one of us.”
Correll and Nguyen think the NFL might respect the women coaches more because they are in a position typically held by men, as opposed to cheerleading, a field dominated by women.
“We are feminine,” Correll said. “We have feminine careers in this male space. We are not like the men. We don’t exist in the same space. We don’t look similar. We don’t even really cross paths too much, and that’s totally fine. We embrace our feminine characteristics, like the skirts, the glitter, the makeup, the hair, the boots, the dancing.” She adds that that makes cheerleaders “stronger” and “braver.”
If the NFL wants to move forward, Nguyen said, it should recognize the women it has “pushed aside” for years.
The timing of the docuseries feels suspicious to some former cheerleaders. Many former women employees of the Washington Commanders have been pushing for the NFL to release the report from an investigation of the team’s culture under owner Dan Snyder that characterized it as “highly unprofessional."
The docuseries “is a ploy to change that reputation that the NFL honestly has always had, which is not really being women-friendly in all accounts,” Correll said.