Jills’ bill is coming due for the Bills - The Buffalo News

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Jills’ bill is coming due for the Bills

It’s bad enough that the Bills are about to launch their season with a questionable young quarterback.

Worse, they will have to soldier on without the Jills.

I’m not sure how motivated the guys will be without the go-go-booted young lovelies cheering them on from the sidelines.

OK, I’m kidding. I’ve always thought cheerleaders were a misfit for the pro game, their rah-rah routines a better fit for college and high school sports. Even though the Jills are little more than window dressing, they are an institution with the team, as ingrained as prolonged mediocrity and memories of better days.

The Jills consequently serve more of a purpose for the Bills than their cohorts for other NFL squads. For the past 14 playoff-less seasons, they’ve provided male fans with a welcome distraction from frequent on-field pummelings – thus enhancing what the NFL likes to call the “game experience.”

Whatever one thinks of the Jills, they indisputably are part of the Bills’ picture. They wear the team colors, perform dance routines, cheer the lads on and provide a welcome diversion from the team’s habitual game-day failings. So they ought to at least be paid.

That’s the crux of the recent back-pay lawsuit filed by five ex-Jills. A judge last week batted aside a Bills legalistic Hail Mary pass to have the suit dismissed. Team officials cling to the claim that the young ladies are independent contractors, which conveniently allows the Bills – who own the “Jills” trademark – to reap the benefits of their presence, while keeping the gals at a straight-arm’s distance. You can’t, to my mind, have it both ways.

Until this thing is settled, fans can kiss the Jills goodbye.

“Everyone gets paid – the ushers, ticket-takers, security people – except the Jills,” Mark Panepinto, the ex-Jills’ lawyer, told me. “They’re part of the attraction; they enhance the value of game day. It’s not right.”

Granted, carrying the legal pompons for the Jills is not like making a case for health care aides or underpaid fast-food workers. The Jills know what the deal is – dress in skin-baring unis, do basic dance steps and ignore uncreative suggestions from drunken louts in the stands. Although feminists may recoil in horror, a gig’s a gig – and, by rights, should come with a paycheck. Particularly when a playbook-long list of behavior/hygiene/appearance requirements come with the job.

The Jills’ “Code of Conduct” handbook – a tome apparently compiled over the decades – reads like it was written by Emily Post on acid. Directives range from instructions on table manners (“do not overeat bread at a formal setting”) to prohibitions on nail-biting to guidance on far more personal matters of hygiene.

Life in Jillsville includes a full calendar of required appearances, the bulk of them unpaid, and various semi-degrading activities. Among them is the “flip for tips,” in which a short-skirted Jill performs a backflip for a $10 (presumably) male tipper at charity functions. Adding injury to insult, the sponsor – not the performing Jill – pockets the ten-spot! The gymnastics are presumably better than squeezing into a golf cart with four partying dudes at a charity event, although thankfully that’s a judgment most of us will never have to make.

It all sounds like a bizarre relic from another century, and I mean the 19th, not the 20th. Perhaps in acknowledgment, the two recent Jills-managing entities named in the lawsuit, Citadel Communications and current sponsor Stejon Productions, both agreed to mediation – leaving the Bills as the only holdout. The team, however, was reportedly at least on board with a $50,000 payment offer that got tabled when the lawsuit was filed. The five ex-Jills haven’t spoken publicly of late.

“It’s clear from documentation that the Bills were a co-employer,” said Panepinto. The five ex-Jills who are suing “just want to make things better for whoever comes after them.”

Paying minimum wage to cheerleaders who wear the team colors, perform on game days, submit to various forms of mild off-field degradation and make numerous unpaid appearances doesn’t seem unreasonable for a team that last year reportedly made $35 million. But for reasons unfathomable to me, the Bills – along with several other cheerleader-targeted NFL teams – insist on making a goal-line stand.

I don’t care what the point spread is – in this contest, I’ll take the Jills.

email: desmonde@buffnews.com

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