Despite the athleticism and stamina the sport requires, professional cheerleaders are still, more often than not, viewed as sex symbols. But is sex appeal literally a requirement for cheering on an NFL team? One former Miami Dolphins cheerleader says the team discriminated against her on the basis of gender after she revealed that she was a virgin.
Former Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware filed a complaint Wednesday against both the NFL and the Dolphins with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, a state agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws. According to The Washington Post, Ware alleges in her complaint that coaches subjected her to discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after other members of the cheer team learned that she was a virgin for religious reasons.
Ware revealed her faith-based decision not to have sex before marriage after her fellow cheerleaders asked what music she liked to listen to during sex on a team bus ride in 2015, according to The Washington Post. Ware alleges that after coaches learned of her virginity, they confronted her about it during an annual work review in April 2016. According to Ware's complaint, the coaches told her she could not discuss her virginity around the team. She also alleges one of the coaches attempted to frame her virginity as something "dirty."
Ware told The Post she'd spoken to someone in the Dolphins’ human resources department in fall 2016, after she began to feel like the team director, Dorie Grogan, had become "aggressive" toward her. In one incident, Ware claims she'd been mocked for her virginity during a photoshoot where Grogan allegedly asked her to "make love to the camera" and play with a prop "like they were balls." A team source tells Bustle that the Dolphins had moved to immediately address the issue and reprimand the supervisor.
"We are seriously committed to providing a positive work environment for everyone associated with the organization," the Miami Dolphins say in a statement. "We hold every member of our organization to the same standards and do not discriminate as it relates to gender, race and religious beliefs."
But Ware told the Post that her mistreatment continued, and she accused the team of not handling her complaint seriously. "There is a sense of manipulation, where any time you raised a concern, it was like, 'All we need is a pretty girl to wear the uniform. You're completely replaceable, so if you have a problem with it, leave. One hundred other girls want your spot,'" she told the newspaper. Ware finished out the season before moving on from the team in 2017, according to The Post.
A spokesperson for the NFL says the league is committed to fair employment practices. "The NFL and all NFL member clubs support fair employment practices," a statement from NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy reads. "Everyone who works in the NFL, including cheerleaders, has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws."
McCarthy goes on to say the NFL will work with its clubs to share the "best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace."
Ware certainly isn't the only NFL cheerleader to have spoken out critically about workplace conditions. The New York Times recently reported on complaints from several former cheerleaders, including allegations that they were forced to deal with unwanted groping, sexual comments, and sexual harassment as part of the job. A number of NFL cheerleaders have also filed lawsuits in recent years alleging they have been misclassified as independent contractors, and thus unfairly denied workplace rights and fair wages.
So while NFL cheerleaders play an important role in keeping fans entertained, it's increasingly clear that a lot of questions remain about how they're treated and how they're compensated.