The New York Times has recently reported that on a 2013 trip to Costa Rica, the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders were required to do several things that they were not comfortable with.
After the shoot was over, a group of the cheerleaders was selected to accompany a few important guests of the team as escorts to a night club. There was no intimacy involved, but the women report feeling uncomfortable with the arrangement. They felt that they did not have the option to say no.
Is This a Problem Across the NFL?
The NFL is feeling the heat after a Miami Dolphins cheerleader recently filed a lawsuit against the team for discrimination. Her claim is that she was discriminated against based on her religion and gender.
The lawsuit has made many people take a closer look at how cheerleaders are treated across the league. Unfortunately, there seems to be more mistreatment than people realized.
The Redskins Website
Apart from the 2013 trip to Costa Rica, the Redskins were found to have some disturbing content on their website. Although they’ve recently taken it down, the site used to feature a game that fans could play in which they could choose between photos of two cheerleaders, the object being to pick the most attractive one.
Everyone knows that sexiness is a widely used marketing tool. Cheerleaders are on the field to support the team but also for sex appeal. They are an important part of the team, yet they are given little protection. There is no union for cheerleaders, so they sometimes find themselves at the mercy of their director and management.
2012 Boat Party
At a 2012 “team bonding event” cheerleaders were asked to board a private yacht of a wealthy fan who owned a suite at the Redskin’s stadium. There were reportedly dance contests for money amidst a wild atmosphere with plenty of alcohol.
None of the cheerleaders expressed being coerced, but they did not feel they could say no either. This kind of party is just one the things required of them off the field. To say to could put their jobs at risk.
Standard Procedure for Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders from many teams report being asked to mingle with fans and go to team events outside of the games. The question becomes, what really is the job of a cheerleader?
At some of these events, cheerleaders come into contact with fans who have been drinking. Sexual harassment is not uncommon. Cheerleaders are not provided security or protection.
It is no secret in the league that cheerleaders have to deal with fans saying inappropriate things and or touching them physically. It is deemed part of the job. There is an attitude that the cheerleaders are there for the fans, so they have to keep the fans happy.
Many NFL teams require their cheerleaders to sign nondisclosure agreements upon joining with the team. This can make it hard for them to speak out against harassment. It also points to the assumption that the NFL knows what is going on and wants to keep it quiet.
What Should be Done?
It is clear that there is problem within cheerleading in football. Cheerleaders feel pressure from their teams to say ‘yes’ to situations for fear of termination. The language in the team handbook for cheerleaders is very clear. If they step out of line, they risk being thrown off the squad.
Cheerleading, like football, is very competitive. Hundreds of people try out to be on the team. The management knows that if a cheerleader causes a problem, they will have hundreds of applicants ready to take her place.
So, cheerleaders are encouraged not to speak up and know if they do that they could readily be replaced. This is not the kind of work environment we want to provide for cheerleaders. We appreciate the work they do on the field. They should be treated with the respect that the players are.
The need protection, if not from a union that at least from their own teams. No one should go into work feeling unsafe and unsupported.