Of the many queasy revelations in Juliet Macur’s story in the New York Times today about the Washington Redskins’ sketchy-unto-sleazy treatment of its cheerleaders, the most mind-boggling concerns a trip to Costa Rica in 2013. Five cheerleaders told Macur that the team had them serve as escorts for male sponsors and made them feel “worthless and unprotected” during the trip. The team brought 36 cheerleaders to an adults-only resort in Costa Rica for the photo shoot, along with a host of VIP types. While the cheerleaders were taking photos for the team calendar, many of which required them to pose topless or in body paint, the team encouraged the all-male group of “sponsors and suite holders” on the trip to get up close and gawk at them. The cheerleaders say they were not paid for their work, receiving only lodging and travel expenses for the trip while also being subject to punitive weight restrictions.
One cheerleader says she acted as a human barricade to keep the sponsors from staring at her teammate’s essentially naked body. After the photo shoot, things got worse for nine of the cheerleaders, who were told by the cheerleading team director that they’d been “picked” to serve as escorts for some of the sponsors:
One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.
“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.”
Macur’s story is exhaustive and detailed, and it chronicles how the cheerleading team became “increasingly risqué” under Dan Snyder’s leadership. A Snyder-owned radio station once ran a contest where winners would get a cheerleader to wash their car for them, and an ad for it asked whether winners would like cheerleaders “soaping up and scrubbing you.” It’s not all in the past either, as the team’s website currently features an interactive game where fans can pick which past cheerleader they think is hotter.
Several former cheerleaders who spoke to the Times also detailed wild parties on the yacht of William Teel, a suite holder and longtime sponsor of the cheerleading team. Teel was an important financier, and as such he got to host “mandatory team bonding” parties. While the two current cheerleaders made available by Washington’s PR team said everything that took place was fine, former cheerleaders describe an atmosphere where they felt they would not be able to complain:
Five cheerleaders characterized that 2012 team-bonding party as a wild gathering, where men shot liquor into the cheerleaders’ mouths with turkey basters. Below the deck, men handed out cash prizes in twerking contests. No cheerleaders claimed that they were touched inappropriately, and the two team captains said the trip was pleasant. One added, “They were all adults and got out of the experience what they wanted to get out of it.”
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.”
One former cheerleader spoke about team director Stephanie Jojokian and said, “There was a lot of pressure by the director for us to be a part of that party atmosphere with sponsors because we knew she picked favorites that way.” For her part, Jojokian referred to the cheerleading team as a “family” and denied that she ever forced any of her team members into participating in anything they didn’t feel comfortable with. Washington also released a vague statement.
“The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in.”
You can (and should) read the whole report over at the New York Times.