In a report published by the New York Times on Wednesday, Washington NFL cheerleaders detail the story of a 2013 trip to Costa Rica that many of them say crossed a line.
The team’s group of 36 cheerleaders took a trip to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot, but several say they felt objectified and that the team was “pimping us out” for male sponsors.
A day after the publication, Washington team president Bruce Allen released a statement:
“We are immediately looking into this situation and want to express how serious we take these allegations,” Allen said. “Based on the dialogue we’ve had with a number of current and former cheerleaders over the past 48 hours, we’ve heard very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict many of the details of the May 2 article. I can promise that once we have completed looking into this matter, if it is revealed that any of our employees acted inappropriately, those employees will face significant repercussions.”
The Times report says a group of suite holders and sponsors were invited on the trip and given exclusive access to the photo shoot that made the cheerleaders uncomfortable:
For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that (Washington) had invited spectators.
A contingent of sponsors and FedEx Field suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.
After the shoot, the report alleges nine of the 36 cheerleaders were chosen by male sponsors to be personal escorts at a nightclub that night:
“So get back to your room and get ready,” the director told them. Several of them began to cry.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders said. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
Their participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the arrangement amounted to “pimping us out.” What bothered them was their team director’s demand that they go as sex symbols to please male sponsors, which they did not believe should be a part of their job.
According to the report, the cheerleaders felt the extracurricular requirements put them in unsafe situations:
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” one cheerleader who was there said. “But unfortunately, I feel like it won’t change until something terrible happens, like a girl is assaulted in some way, or raped. I think teams will start paying attention to this only when it’s too late.”
Washington senior vice president for operations Lon Rosenberg and president of business operations Dennis Greene were reportedly in attendance at the nightclub. One cheerleader told the Times it showed that management condoned the situation. Greene is still listed as a member of the team’s front office, Rosenberg is not.
Many of the allegations were denied by Stephanie Jojokian, the director and choreographer for the Washington cheerleaders. She said the women were not required to go to the nightclub, nor were they chosen by sponsors.
The report says several women elected not to return to the team the following season because of the trip to Costa Rica, which made them feel “worthless and unprotected.”
The publication of the Times’ story comes just weeks after the newspaper reported former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being fired. Last week, Davis and another former cheerleader, Kristan Ware, proposed a settlement that would ask the league to “prepare a set of binding rules and regulations which apply to all NFL teams.”
Earlier in April, the Times also published a report detailing how “groping and sexual harassment are common” parts of the job for cheerleaders. The latest details of the trip to Costa Rica hammer that point home and further illustrate the need for reform of the way cheerleaders are treated in the NFL.