A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful docu puts labor dispute in historical context.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive role models.

Positive Messages

Do what you know is right and don't back down even when it's hard. If you stay true to what you know is right, you'll find that change can happen, though sometimes very slowly, because of the impact your actions and words have. Anyone who works should receive at least the federal minimum wage for the hours that they work. The work that cheerleaders, and women in general, do is often seen as frivolous or having little or no value. But cheerleaders in fact add value to NFL teams and the league and should be compensated accordingly.

Positive Role Models

Both Lacy and Maria model instense dedication to dance and cheer because they love what they do, and perseverance for continuing to pursue justice and fair pay for cheerleaders, not for personal gain but in hopes of making things better for those who follow. The NFL and team owners are presented as not caring at all about the cheerleaders, and being determined never to admit wrongdoing and to continue paying cheerleaders as little as they can get away with. A team of attorneys representing Lacy comprises three women, one of whom is Black. All of them model professionalism, critical thinking, and collaboration.


A former NFL player talks about how his favorite thing about playing football was hitting people. A connection to the power male owners and players have because of the popularity of the sport to domestic violence is briefly presented.


Brief sexualization of cheerleaders from revealing cheerleading uniforms and slow-motion footage of working out that shows a lot of bare skin and follows body curves. Mention that tryouts included doing jumping jacks to see if they "jiggled," with a slight implication that that was demeaning. Quotes from a cheerleading handbook on proper menstrual protection.


The subject matter deals with a highly profitable industry. The only product shown is Seneca cigarettes in a negative context.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Fans interviewed at a football game exhibit slightly drunk behavior. One scene in a casino shows adults drinking at a party, and another shows adults in a bar, but no excess is shown. An elderly man takes a carton of cigarettes; his daughter says he won't quit smoking, and a few brief scenes show him seeking unspecified medical treatment.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleader Problem is a documentary about two former professional cheerleaders trying to get fair wages for the hours they work and to eliminate or minimize the amount of work they're required to do without any pay at all. There's little content of concern, but the mature treatment of the issues won't interest younger kids who aren't yet interested in the larger world around them. Cheerleaders and dancers are briefly, but not graphically, sexualized in workout footage and publicity events. There's a mention of demonstrating "jiggling" at tryouts, and a handbook is quoted about proper menstrual protection. The only violence is mention that a favorite part of playing football is hitting, and a connection made briefly between men in powerful positions and domestic violence. Fans who appear slightly drunk talk about drinking at football games. Adults are shown drinking alcohol socially. Some smoking.

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What's the story?

A WOMAN'S WORK: THE NFL'S CHEERLEADING PROBLEM follows two former cheerleaders, one for the Oakland Raiders and one for the Buffalo Bills, as they try to end unfair and illegal employment practices by both the league and the teams. Cheerleaders have long worked for less than minimum wage, used their own money for expenses without reimbursement, and worked many hours training and making public appearances for no pay at all. Eventually lawsuits are filed seeking not only the pay they were owed for hours they worked, but also changes in policies and practices that will make things better for those who follow. Many people argue that cheerleading isn't important, and that the cheerleaders should be happy just to be on the team because of the intangible benefits it provides. The film also explores how women have been valued and treated historically, tying the NFL issues to the long struggle for equal rights and equal pay.

Is it any good?

This is an interesting documentary that provides a lot of food for thought about a profession that most people probably don't give much thought to, and don't see as having much value, either. A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleading Problem goes beyond showing the hard work and dedication it takes to be a professional cheerleader by exploring the differences and similarities of two in particular. It also provides some historical context for how women and the work they do have been valued (or not) by society.

The documentary comes down fully in favor of the cheerleaders, and takes the NFL and team ownership to task for their poor attitudes toward and treatment of the women who work so hard for their billion-dollar industry. But it does present the other sides' arguments, and viewers will hear from people with a wide range of opinions about the issues raised. Whether you're an NFL fan or not, or a feminist or not, there's plenty of material here to spark interesting discussions about sports, teamwork, what society finds valuable, and getting a fair wage for your work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how A Woman's Work: The NFL's Cheerleading Problem presents the issues it raises. Is it fair and impartial? Do documentaries have to be?

  • Do you agree that most professional sports teams don't value or appreciate cheerleaders? Should they? Why or why not? How does the history of women in society and the workplace affect cheerleading, or any other job women do?

  • Did the movie change your attitude about cheerleading as a profession, or about the women who do it? What did you learn about it?

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