NFL cheerleader: Glitz, glamour, low pay

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(CNN) — You see them on the sidelines of most games. Cheerleaders have become an iconic part of NFL Sundays. But behind the glitz and glamor, there's grueling hours, long days, and some critics argue low pay.

The sun shines on Fed-Ex Field, a line of women seen in shadows, they stretch and prep, then in a flash, the explode with energy.

"It's game day for the Redskins. So that means it's game day for the Redskinettes also. 35 of them out here practicing their pregame routine. They've got about six routines they have to do on a game day. It could be a very long day. About 12 hours for many of them," said Shannon Travis.

So what's it really like to be an NFL cheerleader? Free travel. Exotic getaways. Supporting U.S. troops. Giving back.

"We do a lot within the community."

They also build lasting friendships. But the cheerleaders say they also face challenges. Like juggling long hours for game performances, promotional appearances, and rehearsals with full-time jobs, school, or family.

"To be able to maintain a personal life along with this, you have to be really strong willed and have a support system outside of this," said Washington Redskins Cheerleader Brianne.

And there are misconceptions.

"I think people take in a negative light, sometimes with the uniforms we wear and the makeup we wear."

"We've had women on here who are lawyers, doctors."

Some critics focus on their pay.

"The cheerleaders themselves are really making a very low amount of money," said Amanda Hess.

Amanda Hess reported on cheerleaders in an extensive article in 2011 published on

"I think there is this idea that's really drilled in the audition process, and then again when women make the squad, that they're very lucky to be there," said Hess.

26 of 32 teams have cheerleaders and CNN reached out to a sampling of 14.

Some did not respond, some declined to disclose pay details, some teams listed their numbers on their websites.

San Diego Chargers Cheerleaders: $75, two tickets per home game, compensation for some appearances.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: 150 per game with some paid appearances.

Washing Redskin Cheerleaders: 75 per home game, game tickets, and some paid appearances.

Cheerleaders acknowledge the pay issue.

"We aren't multimillionaires," said  Washington Redskins Cheerleader Susan.

Emerald Stewart was a redskins cheerleader for three years.

"They pay versus what we put into it does not balance out to be very candid," said Stewart.

But she says some things you can't put a price on.

"I did not have a passport before I was a cheerleader, and now I've been on six or seven continents."

Her words echoed by others:

"There are just so many opportunities to be humbled and to give to someone else," said Stewart. "There's a saying that I love to put with this. From the outside looking in, you can never understand. From the inside looking out, you can never explain."