Cheerleading teams associated with the NFL (National Football League) are often involved with work off the field — including charity appearances, youth camps, and an annual calendar photo shoot. But during one such shoot in Costa Rica, several Redskins cheerleaders claim they were mistreated by their team's management.
A lengthy report published Wednesday in The New York Times includes several harrowing details from that 2013 calendar shoot trip, according to a half dozen Redskins cheerleaders who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Contractually, they are barred from disclosing any information via a confidentiality agreement, a fact The Times previously reported last month in a story where cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans alleged that groping and sexual harassment were a normal part of their professional lives.
The NFL previously issued a statement to The New York Times stating, "The N.F.L. and all N.F.L. member clubs support fair employment practices. Employees and associates of the N.F.L. have the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment."
According to the most recent allegation, after cheerleaders for the Redskins arrived in Costa Rica, their passports were reportedly taken by Redskins officials. While the Redskins told The New York Times that collecting passports is their organization's policy during overseas travel, that lack of official identification would cause future problems for a subset of cheerleaders allegedly hand-picked to serve as "escorts" for a handful of business sponsors.
According to the cheerleaders, several of the cheerleaders were asked to go topless or wear nothing but body paint for the photo shoot, despite the fact that an all-male contingent of sponsors had been invited to watch. Later, nine of the squad's 36 members were reportedly chosen as escorts.
One woman told The New York Times' Juliet Macur, "They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go." Another told Macur she felt as if the Redskins were "pimping us out," though they clarified that having sex with the men was not part of the deal.
The Redskins' cheerleading director, Stephanie Jojokian, denies the version of the Costa Rica trip put forward by the Redskins cheerleaders, The New York Times reported. She claimed no one was forced to go to the nightclub, and the women who did had not been selected by Redskins sponsors.
But The Times reported that, according to Macur's sources, a former Redskins cheerleader who was still employed with the team (though no longer as a cheerleader) was at the club, "encouraging the women to drink and flirt." Redskins officials were also reportedly there, including Lon Rosenberg, senior vice president for operations, and Dennis Greene, president of business operations. Bustle has reached out to the Redskins for comment.
One cheerleader told The Times, "The issue was that management seemed to condone all of this.”
When the cheerleaders tried to get a ride home, they were stopped and questioned by local police. Asked to provide some form of identification, the women were at a loss, having had their passports taken from them upon arrival in Costa Rica.
“I guess [the police] thought you were prostitutes,” they were reportedly told by a man affiliated with their cheerleading team.
Macur has previously reported, along with The New York Times' John Branch, on a number of complaints filed in recent years by current and former professional cheerleaders. One of those complaints also involves the Redskins, with one former cheerleader reporting she and four other teammates were required to go to the private home of a male fan in his 40s and spend the afternoon there with a small group of his all-male friends.
The cheerleader told The Times the situation was "sketchy" and "physically uncomfortable." The cheerleaders were not provided security during that outing. She'd go on to compare their situation to that of an "escort." While she and her teammates would make $100 - $200 per game, they were regularly sent out for appearances where the team "would charge $1,200 per cheerleader."
This claim aligns with other revelations of pay structures for cheerleader appearances. In 2014, a former Baltimore Raven cheerleader told Deadspin the hourly rate charged for a cheerleader fell between $175 for charity events and $300 for other appearances. According to the cheerleader, of that money, the cheerleaders themselves would take home just $50 an hour, on average.
Two cheerleaders have recently taken legal action against the NFL — Kristan Ware, formerly of the Miami Dolphins cheer team, and Sara Blackwell, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader. According to The Times, Ware claims she was discriminated against for her religious beliefs, with cheerleading coaches making fun of her for posting pictures of her Christian baptism and choice to remain a virgin until marriage. Blackwell has alleged a double standard for male and female employees given that she lost her job due to a social media policy applicable only to cheerleaders.
Legal action by current or former cheerleaders has yet to be taken against the Redskins.