Let’s turn now to the wide, wide and cruel world of sports.

The big story at this time of year, of course, is the Super Bowl — that multi-multi-million-dollar showcase of super-paid superstars, billionaire owners, taxpayer-financed sports palaces, extravagant corporate skyboxes serving deep-fried caviar, and TV ads running $4 million for a 30-second spot.

Behind the scenes of this big money sports extravaganza is a sordid secret of illegal cheating.

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sgrace/Flickr

No, not the use of steroids. Rather, this scandal is about the NFL’s use and abuse of cheerleaders. Astonishingly, these glamorous, athletic, and very-hard-working ladies — who bring sideline pizzazz to the show and are used by owners to promote the team brand and ticket sales — are paid less than the beer hawkers on game day, less than a McDonald’s “crew member,” and way less than minimum wage.

Yes, that’s illegal, which is why some Raiderettes (the popular cheerleaders of Oakland’s NFL team) have filed a lawsuit for wage theft against the owners.

Overall, pro-team cheerleaders get $70 to $90 per game. That’s for a 12-hour game day, plus uncompensated practice sessions that routinely run a grueling six hours, and mandatory promotional appearances.

Football teams nickel-and-dime the women by shorting their hours, and they even illegally fine their pep-leaders for such nonsense “transgressions” as bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice. And they provide no health care for a job that puts cheerleaders at constant risk of injury.

Then there’s this Dickensian twist: The Raiders management withholds all cheerleader pay — as meager as it is — until the end of the season. The women are essentially indentured servants to teams wallowing in wealth siphoned out of the pockets of ticket holders and taxpayers.

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Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org

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