The NFL is facing scrutiny for allegedly choosing not to pay dancers who will perform at the Super Bowl halftime show on Feb. 13.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the dancers will be disguised as fans during the upcoming Super Bowl. But the people who appear to be spectators are actually dancers who have worked 72 hours over nine days in unpaid rehearsals.

Creative artist and activist Taja Riley is speaking up for the performers.

“I think that in a performance that is going to highlight predominantly African American movers, African American recording artists and African American culture — Inglewood stand up — I think this is the opportunity … to really step up and do something about this,” Riley said in a live video on social media.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Riley said halftime show choreographer Fatima Robinson had blocked her on Instagram after she started speaking up on the issue.

"This is another example of the systemic problem in the dance industry where we feel we are being bullied to pony up [by participating for exposure only] or face being blacklisted if we speak out,” the activist said.

According to Robinson, the field cast represents people going to a concert, “to fill up the space and bring energy to the performers who are performing on the stage.” 

“We’re not asking dancers to work as dancers for free,” Robinson said. “What was asked is, ‘Would anyone like to volunteer for the field cast?’”

Riley, who worked as a paid dancer in two previous Super Bowl halftime shows, did not audition for this year’s event. However, she decided to speak out after learning that the performers are being recruited as volunteers. Riley said it was Bloc LA, a prominent agency representing dancers in Los Angeles, who reached out to the dancers through direct messages on social media.

"When I learned the details that they received, there were several red flags, including a statement suggesting that the (white) half time coordinator was looking for 'Pre-dominantly African American Movers' to fit the bill," Riley said in a statement to Blavity. "This specific detail stood apart from their usual shenanigans."

Casting manager Kristen Terry, however, said the phrase “African American movers” was not used. Terry said it's possible someone had articulated the language in a conversation at some point.

In addition to not being paid for their performance time, Riley said the dancers were told that they would need to pay for their own parking and transportation. Additionally, the performers were allegedly told to bring their own food and banned from using their smartphones at the event.

In previous years, Riley said the dancers have always ended up "with the short end of the stick."

"When we confront some of these behaviors, poor business practices or lack of protection procedures, we are usually coerced to 'play along,' face the threat of job security or are ignored by those you would often assume would play our great defenders/protectors," Riley said. "If any of us appear to be 'difficult' by simply asking for salary transparency or on-time paperwork, we are faced with the possibility of being blacklisted for speaking out."

Although the Super Bowl is one of the most profitable events in the country, Riley said it's also "one of the lowest-paying union gigs you could ever get in your professional career."  The advocate said the NFL's poor practices are another example of large entities capitalizing on free Black labor.

"Most of the time, corporations like this disguise it through contracting powerful leaders that bring in the POC numbers. That way, if they’re ever feeling trapped by scandal, they can say, 'look at who is the face — **reveals Black man**,” Riley said.  "It’s the hide-behind-the-Black-man moment that we see so often when Black history month or Juneteenth rolls around … I also feel that we are a bit of a pawn still, no matter where society places us." 

Riley, the daughter of record producer Teddy Riley, has danced alongside artists such as Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Now, the dancer says she's fighting for an issue that's "way bigger than the Super Bowl."

"I think this became so viral because this opens up a much bigger discussion about the global mistreatment and unethical industry standards for dance artists and widely for the underdogs of entertainment," she said.

Officials at Roc Nation, which is producing the Super Bowl halftime show, are fighting back against the allegations.

“No one working with this show contacted an agency to request professional dancers to volunteer," Jana Fleishman, executive vice president of strategy and communications for Roc Nation, said. “We are employing 115 professional dancers performing alongside the headliners. The professional dancers are completely separate from the volunteer-based, nonchoreographed field cast. As in years past, it is completely up to the volunteer candidates to participate. Volunteers are not asked to learn choreography.”

As Blavity previously reported, Mary J. Blige will take the stage with  Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, during the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.