During a trip to Costa Rica in 2013, the women alleged, they worked for 14 hours posing topless or wearing nothing but body paint.
While the environment at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort where the photo shoot occurred was secluded, the women were not alone. Instead, they were being watched by a group of all-male sponsors and FedExField suit holders.
In addition to being displayed as objects to the team’s sponsors, nine of the 36 cheerleaders were told they had been chosen as escorts who would keep some of the powerful men company during a night out at a club.
Some, the report claimed, broke down as soon as they were told to get ready.
“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.”
While the women said they weren’t told to actually have sex with these men, they felt their bosses were “pimping us out.”
According to what the cheerleaders told the Times, they felt their job had turned into acting as sex symbols who were there to please the male sponsors.
“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 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.”
When asked to comment, both the Redskins’ cheerleaders director and choreographer Stephanie Jojokian and the actual team said that the Costa Rica trip was nothing like what the cheerleaders portrayed it.
“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Jojokian said, adding that the sponsors didn’t pick the cheerleaders.
“I’m the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders. It’s a big family. We respect each other and our craft. It’s such a supportive environment for these ladies.”
A statement issued by the Redskins shared a similar sentiment.
“The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in,” the statement read.
Despite their claims, this isn’t the first time that an NFL cheerleader program or team have been accused of putting cheerleaders in difficult situations.
Cheerleaders for several teams have accused employers of mistreatment over the years, with some even having to file lawsuits to be paid minimum wage. Others started a motion to launch a class action lawsuit against the NFL alleging that the league “actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries.”
It’s a disgrace that a league of teams that will pay millions to one player will treat their cheerleaders in such a demeaning way.
Hopefully, this story will inspire others who may have suffered similarly to come out of the shadows and speak out.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters