This paper presents the results of an exploratory study of why and how professional football teams in the National Football League (NFL) use cheerleaders, the vast majority of whom are women. From archival press reports, media guides, and team website content, we examine why some teams choose not to use cheerleaders; and among the majority of teams that do use cheerleaders, the purposes for which they employ them. Based upon the findings, we categorize teams into two groups: (a) NFL teams that do not use cheerleaders but that also fail to capitalize on this potential competitive advantage; and (b) NFL teams that present sexually exploited cheer squads but that complicate public perceptions by emphasizing cheerleaders’ more legitimate roles (e.g., philanthropy). We conclude with two options for NFL teams seeking to avoid the sexual exploitation of women cheerleaders. We also urge cheerleaders to consider unionization.

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