Why These Previously Anonymous Cheerleaders Are Coming Forward About Harassment

"Stop looking the other way and start treating women the right way."

Earlier this year, five former cheerleaders for Washington's NFL team spoke anonymously to the New York Times about alleged harassment during their time on the squad. This week, two of the women came forward and agreed to be named, after receiving criticism from other squad members. Their story drives home the message that everyone deserves to feel safe at work.


In the initial article, the women described a 2013 calendar photo shoot in Costa Rica, during which male sponsors were invited to view the women — some of whom were topless or only wearing body paint. The squad's director, Stephanie Jojokian, later told a group of cheerleaders to escort some of the sponsors to a nightclub. Although no sex was reportedly involved, the women said it felt like "pimping us out."

"Our main goal was for the Redskins to make a safe working environment for the cheerleaders," Rebecca Cummings, one of the women who spoke out, told the Times in a new article. "But even after we laid out all the shady situations we were forced to be in, the team failed to really fix things."

An internal inquiry by the team reportedly concluded that the women's story was true, but "greatly exaggerated." The team has since made changes, including less revealing uniforms for cheerleaders who interact with fans, the omission of sponsors from this year's calendar shoot, and the presence of female police officers. However, Cummings and Allison Cassidy, who also spoke out, think more needs to be done, including the removal of figures such as Jojokian.

"The changes some teams are making right now are just Band-Aids to hide the really serious issues, like better pay and a safer workplace," Cummings said. (On the 2013 trip, the cheerleaders were reportedly only paid transportation costs, and room and board.) "It's time for the N.F.L. to basically man up, stop looking the other way and start treating women the right way."

Sports is far from the only industry in which women are frequently made to feel unsafe, as the rise of movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up have shown. As Cummings explained, "Having kids, I realize that I want to look back and see that I was on the right side of it all, and stand up for myself and for other women." 

Cummings and Cassidy are not the only cheerleaders who have spoken out about poor or unequal treatment. As the Times points out, the New York Jets settled a class-action lawsuit filed by more than 50 cheerleaders over wages in 2016. More recently, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being fired from the squad, pointing to rules about off-the-job behavior which apply to cheerleaders but not players.

And it's not just NFL cheerleaders who are speaking up. Georgia college cheerleader Tommia Dean recently filed a complaint after she was denied her right to protest by kneeling during the national anthem during football games, inspired by Colin Kaepernick. 

As Cummings told the Times, this issue is "more than just a story about Redskins cheerleading."

Cover image: Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


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