Manouchcar Pierre-Val made headlines in 2014 when she slapped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a class action labor lawsuit demanding back pay for work she and other Buccaneers cheerleaders did for the team. The 27-year-old Haitian-born Tampa woman, who cheered for the team during the 2012-2013 season, argued that the cheerleaders deserved more than $100 per game because they worked many unpaid hours at tasks like practicing, running cheerleading clinics, visiting charity events and posing for swimsuit calendars. The Bucs settled for $825,000 to compensate Pierre-Val and roughly 90 other current and former cheerleaders but continued to deny the women were due more compensation.
Pierre-Val, whose first name is pronounced Ma-NOOSH-ka and who goes by "Missy," has been busy since then.
Beside her day job as a nurse practitioner at an addictions treatment center in Riverview, Pierre-Val has launched two websites and written an e-book, 10 Steps to Fast-Tracking Your Way to Becoming a Registered Nurse. Her website fierceexpression.com offers mentoring and tutoring services to nursing students and aspiring nurses. The other, giftfornurses.org, features mugs, clothes and jewelry for people in the profession.
As the Buccaneers prepare for their home opener today, Pierre-Val spoke with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tony Marrero about her experience as a cheerleader, the lawsuit, her nursing career and her new ventures.
Why did you want to be a cheerleader and what was that experience like?
I love performing arts and I've always had a passion for dancing. When I graduated from high school, I didn't have that opportunity in college because I went to a satellite campus. So when I saw the opportunity to audition for the Bucs I felt like it was exactly what I needed because it had been a few years since I'd danced or cheered, and I really missed it. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had. It taught me a lot about myself, a lot about other people. I met some great people, a lot of people on the team that I'm still friends with.
Did you struggle with the decision to file the lawsuit?
Initially, I really did struggle because I just didn't know how people were going to react, especially people I cheered for. But this was a conversation I and other girls on the team had amongst ourselves, so to me it wasn't a surprise that I or someone else would want to do this. But it was hard to move forward, especially once I got all the backlash from other people.
What was the reaction from your fellow cheerleaders and the public?
I would say it was split. I got a lot of negativity, a lot of backlash. People insinuated that I was doing it more for a come-up or financial gain. And then, of course, I got the other side from the community and the cheerleaders who supported me.
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What did you think of the outcome?
I was really satisfied with the outcome. I'm super proud that the Bucs decided to settle. I think it was the right thing to do.
What is fair pay, in your mind, for a cheerleader for an NFL team?
For the amount of work that the cheerleaders do for the team and the amount of public relations work they do for the team, they're out in the communities and entertaining — I had a full-time job at the time and literally it was another full-time job. I think it deserves a salary like the other staff members. You're practicing at home. It takes hours to get ready. You have to be at the stadium four hours before the game, you cheer at the game for another four hours. It's a lot.
Would you venture to say what a fair salary would be?
No, I don't have a specific number ... but it should be something the girls can live off of.
What's it like working as a nurse, particularly in an addictions treatment center?
Sometimes it's really challenging because you're dealing with someone who really has a mental illness. They're away from their families, they're in a completely different environment and they're being weaned off drugs and alcohol. Patients can be irrational sometimes and you just have to do your best. It's challenging but at the same time rewarding. You get to see patients grow.
Talk about the challenges of becoming a nurse and why you wrote the book and launched the website.
I did not have the luxury of not working during college and that was really stressful because we had a really rigorous school schedule, so time management was the biggest thing. At the end of your bachelor's and master's you have to go through nursing school and take the state board. I created Fierce Expression and wrote the e-book because I realized I was answering the same questions over and over for people interested in becoming nurses. I've been able to answer the questions all in one book and help people navigate the way to become a nurse.
What's the best advice you can give to aspiring nurses?
Stick it out. Nursing school is pretty competitive, so you may not get in the school of your choice, but there are other options. Definitely don't give up.
How has being a woman of color affected your experience with the Bucs and your path to becoming a nurse?
When I cheered for the Bucs, you can't help but notice there's only a few women of color on the team. It's pretty much all the teams in the NFL. The girls were absolutely wonderful, it was a sisterhood, but it just would be nice to be represented more. So when we would go out into the community, I'd have other girls of color come up to me and say, "Oh, wow, it's nice to see you, maybe I can do it." So it really makes me emotional.
When I thought about the lawsuit, I just felt like I had a diligence to do what's right and inspire someone and show other young girls of color that you can do it, too. It's the same thing with nursing. I feel like as a woman of color I've been blessed to have the little platform to inspire and mentor someone else.
Sunday conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.