There are a couple of cheerleading memes on Pinterest right now that feature a young woman flying through the air, mid-cheer, with perfect, fearless form. The text accompanying one reads: “If you ever feel like giving up… just remember there’s a little girl watching who wants to be just like you. Don’t disappoint her.” The other says: “Be strong. Be fierce.”
If these are key tenets of being a great cheerleader, one from Antioch, California is setting a perfect example. Kayla Morris, of the San Francisco 49ers' Gold Rush squad, has taken a knee during the National Anthem at two games this month—the first cheerleader for an NFL team to do so.
Given the incredibly tight standards NFL cheerleaders are held to both on and off the field, exercising her right to protest was an extraordinarily brave move.
Each NFL team has their own rule handbook, so conditions vary for cheerleaders across the country, but Business Insider has reported that cheerleaders for the 49ers "cannot tell people that they are affiliated with the team." The Oakland Raiderettes face fines for forgetting any part of their uniforms or for not having polished boots on game day. After a New Orleans Saints cheerleader was fired for posting a photo of herself to Instagram wearing a one-piece teddy, the New York Times reported that the Saints' handbook forced cheerleaders to leave any location where a football player may be, even if they were there first. Other teams have rules around wearing sweatpants in public, visible tattoos and navel exposure. The handbooks don't have rules about taking a knee because it probably never occurred to anyone that a cheerleader might do such a thing.
It's not the first time they've been underestimated. In 2015, the Raiderettes, along with four other squads, filed lawsuits against their respective teams and won a combined $2.6 million, as well as guaranteed minimum wage payments, which they had not been making prior. At that time, one 49ers cheerleader claimed she was making just $2.75 per hour.