Several cheerleaders for the Washington NFL team revealed to The New York Times on Wednesday that their jobs often take them off the field and into sexually charged situations with men who sponsor the team.
The report adds to the growing pile of evidence that NFL cheerleaders across the league are forced to work under unfair conditions, and, as suggested by the women who spoke to the Times, often beyond the confines of their jobs on the football field.
During a 2013 calendar photo shoot trip to Costa Rica, the cheerleaders said, the team invited a group of all-male sponsors and FedExField suite holders to watch the squad members pose topless or in nothing but body paint for their photos.
After one 14-hour working day on the trip, the cheerleading director told nine of the women that some male sponsors had “picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub” that night. The director’s request did not appear optional, they said.
“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.”
The cheerleaders noted that their escorting duties did not require them to have sex with the men.
Stephanie Jojokian, the squad’s longtime director and choreographer, dismissed the suggestion that the club night was mandatory. The team issued a statement stating that the cheerleaders are “contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.”
The team confirmed to the Times that the cheerleaders were paid nothing for the weeklong trip, though their transportation costs, meals and lodging were covered.
The cheerleaders also said they felt alarmed when, upon arrival at the resort where the photo shoot was taking place, team officials collected all their passports from them ― a safety precaution, they said.
They also recounted mandatory “bonding” parties that took place on the yacht of longtime team suite holder William R. Teel Jr. with several of his friends.
One of the cheerleaders who spoke to the Times described a similar pressure to participate in the events on the yacht.
One cheerleader a few years later was told what to expect at the annual affair. “I’d been given a heads-up that we were going on this particular man’s yacht and that he had a lot of money — and that you could make a lot of money there if you wanted,” one cheerleader said, referring to the prize money in the dance contests. “But that was not for me, and lots of us felt the same way. But we were too scared to complain. We felt that our place on the team would be compromised if we did.”
Wednesday’s report comes on the heels of several other scandals plaguing the NFL’s cheerleading programs.
In March, a New Orleans Saints cheerleader filed a lawsuit against the NFL citing an unfair double standard over the rules for the team’s female and male employees after she was fired for violating a cheerleader-specific social media policy.
The following month, a Miami Dolphins cheerleader filed a suit against the league after she said she became “a target of discipline, ridicule, harassment and abuse” from the team’s cheerleading director after she posted a photo on social media of her recent baptism.
UPDATE: May 3 ― Team president Bruce Allen released a statement Thursday saying the organization is “looking into the situation” and that several current and former cheerleaders have given “very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict” the Times’ report.