The Truth Behind the Toxic Culture of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

The Truth Behind the Toxic Culture of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

It’s no secret that making the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad is one of the toughest gigs in the entertainment industry.

The elite team of 36, who have long been dubbed America’s Sweethearts, come from all over the world to uproot their lives to Texas, where the expectation placed on them is perfection – and then some.

The new Netflix series, ‘America’s Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders,’ from famed sports documentarian Greg Whiteley, paints a portrait of dancers who have the weight of a $5bn business on their shoulders with very little to show for it. 

Not only are they expected to perform impossibly high kicks and their infamous jump splits known for resulting in serious, long-term injury, they’re also role models for little girls, eye candy for the fans in the stands, and everything in between. 

Now, speaking to Mail Sport on the condition of anonymity, one ex-DCC member has lifted the lid on the ‘dark side’ of the ‘toxic’ environment, in which the dancers are treated poorly and viewed as ‘expendable’.

The Netflix series, ‘America’s Sweethearts: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ spotlights the group

One ex-DCC member revealed there was a 'dark side' to the 'toxic' environment at the team

One ex-DCC member revealed there was a ‘dark side’ to the ‘toxic’ environment at the team

‘You get hooked on the sisterhood of it all,’ the former cheerleader told us.

‘You really fall in love with the girls, they’re your best friends. But we all joke that we’re trauma bonded because of the things we’ve been through.’  

When the Dallas Cowboys gave Netflix cameras unparalleled access to the DCC throughout the 2023-24 football season, the show – whether intentionally or not – became a poignant look at female labor, and how America has come to view so-called pink jobs.

The cheerleaders’ work is all in service of a billion-dollar organization – the wealthiest sports team in the world – so it’s no surprise the series addressed the elephant in the room less than 20 minutes into episode one. 

‘There’s a lot of cynicism around pay for NFL cheerleaders — as it should be. They’re not paid a lot,’ Charlotte Jones, chief brand officer and daughter of billionaire owner Jerry Jones, said.

The Cowboys heiress is among the most powerful women in the NFL, reportedly earning $1.5million annually.

Jerry Jones' daughter Charlotte is being criticized for her response to the cheerleaders' pay

Jerry Jones’ daughter Charlotte is being criticized for her response to the cheerleaders’ pay

She has worked for the billion-dollar franchise since her dad bought it in 1989

She has worked for the billion-dollar franchise since her dad bought it in 1989

‘But the facts are, they actually don’t come here for the money. They come here for something that’s actually bigger than that to them,’ she went on.

‘They have a passion for dance. There are not a lot of opportunities in the field of dance to get to perform at an elite level. It is about being a part of something bigger than themselves. It is about a sisterhood that they are able to form, about relationships that they have for the rest of their life. They have a chance to feel like they are valued, they are special, and they are making a difference. When the women come here, they find their passion and they find their purpose.’

Naturally, viewers were quick to take issue with Charlotte’s comments.

‘Charlotte Jones acknowledging and validating low pay because it’s a “dream” to even make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders team is so gross. Y’all should be lifting women up. Not perpetuating the cycle,’ one enraged viewer tweeted.

‘Listening to Charlotte Jones Anderson justify why the Cowboys don’t pay their cheerleaders well, and give them “opportunity” in lieu of payment will not age well. It’s exploitive. You pay your other performers millions of dollars a year. Make it make sense,’ another claimed.

Mail Sport contacted Charlotte Jones for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.

The lowest paid Cowboys player makes $795,000, while quarterback Dak Prescott has a contract valued at $160million.

By contrast, the cheerleader we spoke to earned between $15,000 and $22,000 per year while part of the DCC.

‘It’s very insulting to see someone in such a high position talk about the fact we’re in it for something bigger than ourselves,’ the ex-cheerleader said in response to Charlotte’s comments. 

‘We love the job of being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. However, I believe if you want elite dancers, you have to give elite compensation.

‘We’re all athletes, we’re all incredible performers … the problem is that they will have women lining up every single year willing to do it for less.’

One could be forgiven for thinking there may be some fairness to those stats: 90,000 people will pack into AT&T Stadium come August to see the players, after all.

However, the Cowboys organization has openly admitted they were in financial trouble before Jerry purchased the team in 1989, and DCC director Kelli Finglass was hired to make the cheerleaders a ‘profit center.’

‘Kelli was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made,’ Charlotte said elsewhere in episode one.

‘When we came in, the team was in financial disarray,’ she went on, explaining that Finglass introduced big money-makers like the annual swimsuit calendar, a special edition DCC Barbie doll, and the long-running CMT reality show, ‘Making the Team,’ which wrapped in 2022.

Executives, including Jerry himself, proudly boasted about the money the cheerleaders have brought into the organization, while emphasizing the crucial role they play in representing the global brand.

So how much does it pay to be an ambassador for a business valued at $5bn?

After a former DCC filed a lawsuit in 2017, pay was increased from $8 an hour to $12, and their game-day fee was doubled from $200 to $400.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott inked a deal worth an eye-watering $160million

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott inked a deal worth an eye-watering $160million

Under Jerry's ownership, the Cowboys have become the world's wealthiest sports team

Under Jerry’s ownership, the Cowboys have become the world’s wealthiest sports team

The women may earn more by making special appearances, with that fee increasing based on tenure. The salary is comparable to that of a full-time Chick-Fil-A worker, and doesn’t even hold a candle to the mascot’s reported $65,000 salary.

‘I think you have a moment within your tenure as a DCC where you’re like, “This isn’t right. We should get paid more for what we’re doing, we’re barely making rent,”‘ the former cheerleader said. 

‘The Cowboys profit so much off of us that none of us see,’ she went on, noting that she never saw any revenue from three separate calendar shoots that required her to take 10 days off work.

‘I barely managed [to get by]. I worked two other jobs all three years that I was at DCC.’

On top of the severely low pay, cheerleaders are burdened with a laundry list of additional expenses to maintain their appearance, and must adhere to a strict set of rules. 

At one point, a rulebook flashes on screen outlining points like looking ‘attractive’ at rehearsals, being ‘on call 24 hours a day’ and always accepting criticism with a polite “yes ma’am.”

‘One time they they had staff come and tell us that we had to wear makeup when we were going out just in case we were recognized. Like, this is not the 60s,’ the ex-DCC said. 

DCC alum turned director, Kelli Finglass, features prominently throughout the series

DCC alum turned director, Kelli Finglass, features prominently throughout the series

Most DCC members earn about the same amount as a full-time Chick-Fil-A employee

Most DCC members earn about the same amount as a full-time Chick-Fil-A employee

‘We just had to upkeep this perfect image that is so unrealistic and not who any of us are.’

The binder also featured a page attempting to answer the question, ‘What is a DCC?’

It read, ‘I am a little thing with a big meaning, I help everybody, I unlock doors, open hearts, do away with prejudices … I am pleasing to everyone, I am useful every moment of the day.’

That sentiment was echoed by Finglass multiple times throughout the series, who at one point told the team, ‘we need to get back to thinking about other people, that’s what cheerleaders do.’

Perhaps the loudest rule, that goes largely unspoken in the Netflix docuseries, is that you cannot gain weight.

‘I went through a lot of personal struggle and we were not given any kind of resources for mental health,’ the ex-cheerleader told us.

‘We are constantly critiqued not just for our dance ability, but our appearance. I think that’s very dated and needs to be changed, but if you’re going to go through something like that, you should have resources to be able to talk to someone. 

‘I tried to get into therapy my second year on the team because my mental health was at a really bad low … but I stopped going because I couldn’t afford it.’

She explained that the team doesn’t provide them with any health insurance. 

‘I didn’t have body image issues until I became a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, and I also didn’t have a lot of the bad habits I have now until I was a DCC: I’m a severe people pleaser and overthinker to the max, I’m constantly worried that people are upset with me, even if I’m doing a good job at my work or in relationships,’ she explained. 

‘You never felt safe, you always felt like there was a risk of you getting cut [because] our bodies change as we become older.’

Worryingly, the women also aren’t equipped to handle threats to their physical safety, as one of the senior DCC members recounted having an AirTag placed on her car.  

‘I was so scared, I mean I was turning my back at every corner,’ group leader Kelcey Wetterberg recalled tearfully. 

The former DCC member who spoke to Mail Sport described some of the struggles she faced

The former DCC member who spoke to Mail Sport described some of the struggles she faced

She said she hopes some 'action will be taken' in the wake of the Netflix series' popularity

She said she hopes some ‘action will be taken’ in the wake of the Netflix series’ popularity

The emotional interview followed a scene featuring an official Dallas Cowboys tour guide off-handedly encouraging a group of men to connect with their ‘favorite’ cheerleader on social media. 

‘They do have to sign a “no fraternization contract” for the players. They cannot date or fraternize with any of the football players,’ the male guide said while showing the men around the DCC locker room. 

‘They, however, do not have to sign that same contract with the tour guides,’ he joked.

When one of the men asked if he had ‘any of their phone numbers,’ the guide suggested adding them on Twitter or Instagram. 

The dancers’ safety came to a head at the climax of the series when the youngest member of the squad, Sophy Laufer, accused a cameraman of grabbing her butt after performing at half time during the Thanksgiving game. 

She filed a police report, however authorities determined there was not enough evidence to charge the man.  

‘The DCC hire the most empowering women that are constantly representing the brand well, who have hearts of gold and who work hard. But people have no idea the dark side of it and what we all have to go through being on this team,’ the former DCC member told us.  

‘You kill your body for years and years for this job where you make nothing. Then at the end of the day, you are viewed as expendable and they will replace you so fast.

‘Whenever you walk away, you feel almost like you were worthless because it’s kind of like “goodbye and onto the next.” And I think that’s why people fall into a depression after they retire because you felt like super woman.’

She said she hopes some ‘action will be taken’ to increase the cheerleaders’ pay in the wake of the Netflix series’ popularity. 

It’s 2024, we are not in 1982. These are different women, this is a different America, we have to be compensated fairly for the work that we’re doing.’


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