Editor’s Note: Carol Costello is the host of “Across America With Carol Costello” on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
According to the New York Times, the Washington Redskins took their cheerleaders to Costa Rica, collected their passports upon arrival, and proceeded to conduct a photo shoot for a calendar that was worthy of Playboy Magazine – all under the leering gaze of favored male ticket holders.
I’ve never been a fan of cheerleading. It was never my dream to be stuck on the sidelines, I wanted to be out on the field. I get it, though, cheerleading is an American tradition – like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. But it’s far from wholesome to cheer for some NFL teams. Can you hear me, Washington Redskins?
Women have the right to choose their profession. And they also have the right to be treated fairly. It’s time the NFL commissioner got involved in the fray. If he can implement rules for league players, then surely he can protect the women who so generously promote his product.
Some of those Redskins cheerleaders said they were required to go topless, others wore only body paint, and all the while a group of male VIPs – invited by the Redskins – watched, up close. It doesn’t end there, according to the Times. At the end of one 14-hour day, the squad’s director told nine cheerleaders they were required to be “personal escorts” for those VIPs at a nightclub. Some women cried because it was not their choice, but mandatory to keep their jobs.
That doesn’t sound like “hot dogs and apple pie,” that sounds like the Redskins wanted to play Hugh Hefner for their randy male fans.
In response to the story, the Redskins told the Times, “The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service.” The team’s president, Bruce Allen, later sent CNN a second statement saying, “We’ve heard very different firsthand accounts that directly contradict many of the details in the May 2 article.”
Lest you think it’s only one rogue team behaving badly, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, Bailey Davis, has filed a lawsuit against the NFL for gender discrimination. “We are taken advantage of,” she told me. “We’re told we’re replaceable and not valuable because there’s so many girls that would do it.”
The Saints fired Davis for posting a sexy photo on her Instagram account without permission. Can you say hypocritical? Check out the Saints website. The cheerleader tryout pictures. Women are jumping around in sexy outfits and the Saints appear to be using those images to display ads. In other words, someone is making money off of the Saints’ cheerleaders.
Davis says it’s also unfair that the NFL pays its cheerleaders peanuts – as low as 100 bucks per game. Her lawyer, Sara Blackwell, told me, “The purpose of the lawsuit isn’t to make money. It isn’t to make them say it’s a PR nightmare. It’s to ask them to make this fair and equal. It costs the teams nothing to treat these girls with respect.”
It is important to note that not all NFL teams treat their cheerleaders in objectionable ways.
Nikky Williams cheered for the Atlanta Falcons between 2005 and 2009. “I was treated very well. I feel very much like they were a classy organization,” she recalls.
Williams said her Falcons experience enabled her to travel, perform important community service and has enriched her life. But she, too, is annoyed by the way some teams govern their cheerleaders. “I agree with Bailey on this, ridiculous rules throughout. But, we know the rules,” she told me. “At the end the day, there are 900 girls lining up to go be a part of these teams. So it goes right back to supply and demand.”
She’s afraid the drama surrounding the Redskins and Davis’ lawsuit will “be the end of NFL cheerleading.”
Williams could be right, but I hope not. Even though cheerleading is not my thing, I fervently believe all women have a right to control their own sexuality, and the law of supply and demand is irrelevant. Man up, NFL.