Cheerleaders for Washington, D.C.’s NFL franchise were required to pose nude and escort male fans out to a nightclub, according to a report Wednesday in The New York Times.
A number of cheerleaders told the Times that they had been required to pose topless or only wearing body paint for a calendar shoot on a 2013 trip to Costa Rica, and that a group of all male sponsors and FedExField suite holders were there to watch the photo shoot.
After a 14-hour day of unpaid work shooting for the calendar and practices, some of the women were told they had been “chosen” by men to be their escorts to a nightclub that night. When they were told to get ready, some reportedly broke down and cried.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders told the Times. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
While they weren’t told to have sex with the men, the women said they felt they were being “pimped out.” One woman expressed concern that that type of requirement would continue until something devastating happened.
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” she told the Times. “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.”
The story also details a “hot or not” game people can play to rate the looks of the cheerleaders on the Washington NFL team’s website and the types of questions the women have been asked in online video interviews, including, “Describe your perfect date” and “What’s the first thing you notice about a man?”
Stephanie Jojokian, the longtime director and choreographer for the cheerleaders, denied that the women were required to escort the men who had chosen them out for the night.
“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Ms. Jojokian said. “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.”
Wednesday’s report in the Times is just the latest in a line of stories about the mistreatment of NFL cheerleaders. In recent years, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New York Jets have all filed suits fighting to be paid minimum wage — yes, you read that right — for their work.
Last year, ABC News reported that a group of former cheerleaders filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the NFL. The league and the 26 teams who have cheerleaders, they said, “actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries.”
In March, The New York Times published a report detailing the way NFL teams control the lives of their cheerleaders, including forcing them to leave restaurants, parties, or other events if a player is present.