5 Questions with Ann Marie Kennon (in a previous life)

Keeping with one of our March themes, our editor shared some of the questions she is asked most often about the NFL.
Monday Night Football vs. Dallas Cowboys 1999

What was it really like to cheer in the NFL?
A lot of time and work, but great experience. We had tryouts for about three weeks, rehearsed twice a week the other 11 months; the tour troupe had an extra night per week, then every night before an overseas tour; 12-20 hours on average. We didn’t have weigh-ins, but we had to maintain a good look in the uniform as well as our health. We were also told rehearsal is not practice. Practice is what you do at home—you come to rehearsal with the routines down cold, so all you need to do is work out group parts and formation changes. 

How much did you get paid?
Each team has a different policy for payment, and things have changed in Washington since I retired, but at the time, we weren’t paid. Personal appearances were almost always for charity, but an occasional sponsored appearance was $100 per hour. Today, squad members are paid $75 per game. 

Why do people cheer in the NFL if they don’t get paid?
For the same reason we wanted to be cheerleaders in high school and college for no pay. It’s fun to perform, we love to dance, and being a part of something (at that time) as exciting as the NFL is a good life experience. Everyone has a hobby and this one didn’t cost me anything. 

The reason I continued to be a cheerleader was because it was an amazing feeling to run out of a tunnel with 80,000 people watching, I was in great shape, I loved feeling “special” and making my family proud, and I also got to travel the world entertaining the troops. I will never have the kind of money to afford something like Djibouti or Kuwait on my own. Moreover, even if I had a billion dollars, I could not pay to have SEAL teams and Parajumpers as bodyguards; a surreal experience that seriously outshines any football game.

Did you date any players?
On most teams, it was forbidden to date the players. We were cordial and professional, but there were many good reasons not to fraternize. First, although players make millions of dollars, I am pleased our directors encouraged us to consider ourselves equals. We were not fangirls—we were professional, just like them. We practiced year-round and we were also on the field, rain, snow, or shine. We attended more than 300 charity and non-profit events annually to promote the team, and we still had to work or go to school full-time, from which we took personal leave to entertain the troops. Second, no director, to my knowledge, wanted there to be any advertisement or hint that trying out for the team was a great way to land a rich/famous husband. 

Can you get me tickets?
Short answer, no, and not just because I retired in 2005. Cheerleaders do not have any special insider tracks to tickets or merchandise. We received two tickets to each home game to share with family and friends; we didn’t travel to away games. They were nosebleed seats in the end zone, but they were together so our families got to know each other. They did appreciate being able to enjoy our performances without having to ask people in front to sit down since they were all staying put during half time and time outs. 

All in all, despite needing a chiropractor, courtesy of a few hundred drop-splits (and being 16 years older), I’m proud of it, and, if you’re inclined to try out, I recommend the job.