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What are the rules for NFL cheerleaders? Dating NFL players, tattoos, social media...

Despite working in the same industry as NFL players, cheerleaders work in very different conditions, having to abide by stringent rules.

Houston Texans cheerleaders perform during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at NRG Stadium.
Troy TaorminaUSA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a massive industry that generates over $10 billion each year and while its players are earning an average of $2 million each, according to Forbes, the average NFL cheerleader gets paid just $10 per hour. 

Despite people perhaps thinking that this adds up at the end of the season, the reality is uniforms, hairdressing, and make-up-- which all run up on the cheerleader's account-- are leaving them with not that much to take home.

However, leaving aside the salary difference between players and cheerleaders (certainly one to reflect on), players seem to be permitted a cetain level of misconduct, despite many of them being the face of brands and role models for children. Cheerleaders, meanwhile, are not even allowed to chew gum in the wrong place, or wear sweatpants at any time of the day-- even when they are off-duty -- if they want to keep their jobs.

The massive difference between both has grown in recent years as the rules of NFL cheerleaders continue to cut them short.

Below are the main rules cheerleaders have to abide by:

Members of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders perform during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium on September 30, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Members of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders perform during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium on September 30, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.ANDY LYONSAFP

1. Respect the dress code even when offduty

Unlike NFL players, cheerleaders don't have any deals or contracts with brands or companies and in theory, they shouldn't be made to abide by a dress code whenever they are off duty, but in practice, cheerleaders are not even allowed to wear sweatpants in public.

2. Hide tattoos and piercings

Tattoos or piercings are not allowed, therefore, cheerleaders are made to remove all jewelry and hide or cover tattoos with makeup. Some teams often do body checks before every game to ensure the rule is being followed correctly.

3. Control their weight

This also applies to NFL players, who are all weighed regularly. However, the strictness of the rule also differs for players and cheerleaders, with the latter facing suspension from a game or from their job if they gain what the team considers to be "a lot of weight."

4. No opinions, complaints, or slang language

All cheerleaders must take special care of their language. They should not complain about anything and limit any opinions they may have. The use of slang gossiping is strictly prohibited.

5. Stay away from players at all times

This means: no personal, private, or social relationships with the players are allowed, and by all means no dating. Talking, chatting on social media or physical contact with each other could end in cheerleaders being fined or in the worst case scenario, losing their jobs. 

This is probably one of the most stringent rules cheerleaders have to live by, to the extent that if a player walks into the same pub or restaurant as a cheerleader, she has no choice but to leave. Some teams even require their cheerleaders to block all players on social media.

6. Buy their own uniforms

Lots of rules are set around cheerleading costumes. The most important is probably that which requires cheerleaders to cover the cost of their own uniforms. 

Several teams don't allow cheerleaders to drive around in their costumes once they leave the stadium, while others won't allow them to walk around the stadium in their uniforms either, meaning once they remove their costumes they must leave the stadium.  

Another rule they must live by is the one that prohibits them from eating while they are wearing the uniforms, as well as smoking or drinking.

7. No inappropriate photos on social media

This is probably one of the most regular reasons for dismissal. Cheerleaders must not post inappropriate photos, including lingerie or bikini photoshoots or competitions, or posts of them wearing the team's uniform. All cheerleader accounts are subjected to daily scrutiny to check they are abiding by the rules.

8. No drastic changes in looks

Cheerleaders must maintain their looks with no drastic changes, this means keeping the same haircut, hairstyle, and obviously no changes in hair color. Some of them are even required to have their hair done in specific salons, to ensure things are being done correctly. Their hair must always be done in soft curls when performing.

9. Buy the team calendar and sell it

Cheerleaders have to pose for the annual team calendar, but they are not allowed to keep their own copy for free - they have to buy their own calendar. They are also made to buy 100 copies each to sell on.

10. Appear impeccable at all times

Cheerleaders have to be at their best at all times. In the same way as their weight and body physique, their appearance has to be exceptional. White teeth, perfect nails and hair, the exact amount of makeup, and a correct tan are some of the things cheerleaders should be on top of on a daily basis.

11. Always be on-call

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on September 27, 2021 in Arlington, Texas.
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The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on September 27, 2021 in Arlington, Texas.TOM PENNINGTONAFP

Cheerleaders not only appear on the field but also participate in other NFL events and photoshoots even if they are on their off days. Some teams will not pay extra money to their cheerleaders because they are included in their contracts. Not attending these events could result in dismissal.

12. Remain standing at all times

Cheerleaders should always be standing up and moving around when they are in the field. This rule also applies when they attend any other events.

13. Avoid retouching makeup or clothes while on the field

During the games, cheerleaders are not allowed any makeup retouches or clothing adjustments, one of the reasons why they are required to arrive five hours before the game.

14. No underwear when wearing uniforms

Taking into account how revealing some of the uniforms are, underwear is not allowed to avoid any pieces or straps coming out at any point during the performance. Some teams allow sports bras for cheerleaders affiliated with their team.

Any failure to adhere to these regulations would be considered insubordination and would in most cases result in dismissal.


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