SAMOHI — A few years ago Diane Todd didn’t even like cheerleading.
“Our next door neighbor came up and asked my daughter if she’d want to try it,” Todd said. “I was like ‘oh god.’ I’m thinking boys and I’m not really excited about it.”
Today, she’s leading a national movement on behalf of professional cheerleaders. Todd thinks they should be paid more. So do more than 105,000 other people who signed her petition on Change.org.
By the time you read this the total will be higher; it goes up about 6,000 signatures a day, Todd said.
Todd’s daughter Tristin, 14, now cheers on the Santa Monica Youth Vikings Cheer team. Last year, a parent asked Todd how much professional cheerleaders make. She looked it up and the answer made her mad.
Todd says that National Football League cheerleaders make about $1,000 per season and are often required to pay for their own gear and travel.
Numerous recent reports back this up. A lawyer representing current and former Oakland Raiderettes, who are suing the team for backpay, told the San Jose Mercury News that they make $1,250 per year, or about $5 per hour.
Todd posted her petition on Dec. 29 and the signatures floundered around 6,000 for a couple weeks. After the Raiderettes filed their lawsuit, a Change.org representative contacted her and helped her reformat the petition.
She is asking the owners of the 26 professional football teams that employ cheerleaders to pay them a living wage.
While she was in Las Vegas watching her daughter’s team compete in front of 30,000 people at a national championship (they won) the petition went viral.
“I was just trying to keep up with it,” she said, laughing. “It was really overwhelming.”
On Super Bowl Sunday it gained 15,000 signatures. She is now less than 45,000 signatures away from her goal of 150,000.
The response has been very positive, she said, with some exceptions. She lost a 20-year friendship over the issue. Many detractors point to the fact the women get financial perks for the work they do off the field using the reputation they gained on the field.
That’s not the point, Todd said. The National Football League makes money hand over fist, she said, and even the mascots get paid an average of $65,000 a year. The cheerleaders work extremely hard, she said, and they should be fairly compensated.
“People that are not in cheer don’t get it,” she said. “These girls don’t go into it with the idea of fame and fortune. They love it. It’s an adrenaline rush. There’s a camaraderie. Why can’t the ones working at the highest level earn a living wage?”
Cheerleading is a character-builder for teenagers, Todd said, and it sends them the wrong message when their professional counterparts aren’t compensated fairly.
She relayed a story of one of her daughter’s early cheer competitions in Long Beach when the team was unprepared through no fault of their own.
“Girls were bumping into each other,” she said. “By the end, every girl was crying. A lot of parents probably thought they weren’t that good but we were so proud of them for getting up there. They came in first place as far as we were concerned.”
Todd isn’t sure what she wants to do if the petition hits its mark. She’s thinking about contacting President Barack Obama about the issue. She plans to meet with more representatives from Change.org to hear their suggestions. For now, she’s advocating. She spent her entire Super Bowl party getting people riled up. And as for cheerleading as the sport for her daughter?
“I completely understand it,” she said. “I’m completely sold.”