NBA teams respond to dancers' claims

Yahoo Lifestyle
Chenelle Young danced for the Utah Jazz from 2010 to 2013. (Photo: Courtesy Chenelle Young; graphics: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
Chenelle Young danced for the Utah Jazz from 2010 to 2013. (Photo: Courtesy Chenelle Young; graphics: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

After seven months of reporting and more than 15 interviews, Yahoo Lifestyle found a longstanding culture of unfair pay, “brainwashing” and eating disorders among NBA dancers. All 14 teams featured in the story were given the opportunity to comment on the specific allegations regarding their team. The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons and Golden State Warriors declined to comment on the specific claims in the piece.

Here are the statements from the organizations that chose to comment.

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“We treat our employees respectfully and in compliance with the law. We take these types of allegations seriously, but found no evidence to support these claims. Last year, we resolved a dispute, filed in 2015, over wages with Ms. Herington and other members of our dance team. There were no claims of harassment or discrimination alleged in that case.” — Spokesperson for the Milwaukee Bucks

“The Jazz dancers are valued employees for their work as part of the game night experience and many hours spent as community ambassadors. In 2012, our organization reevaluated the program to ensure that it creates an appropriate work environment, adheres to the fair labor standards act and aligns with our culture. Our dance troupe is now under the direction of a former Jazz dancer.” — Spokesperson for the Utah Jazz

“We are extremely proud of the Knicks City Dancers — they are a world-class dance troupe reflective of the sophistication and artistic environment that is New York. Knicks City Dancers are powerful professional dancers with many years of training and experience who command the respect of our company, our team and our fans.” — Spokesperson for the New York Knicks

“The Sacramento Kings work everyday to support and promote women throughout the organization. We believe fair pay and fair treatment are paramount, and we enforce those standards throughout the entire organization including the Sacramento Kings Dancers who everyday make us proud as positive role models and ambassadors in the community.” — Spokesperson for the Sacramento Kings

“Team dancers are valued members of the NBA family. We work with our teams to ensure that they comply with applicable wage and working condition laws for all employees, and they’re provided safe, respectful and welcoming workplaces.” — NBA spokesman Mike Bass

“We place a priority on providing every member of the Suns organization, including those on our entertainment teams, with a positive and healthy work environment. Our Suns Dancers are a valued part of our organization and community, and we hold each of them in the highest regard.” — Spokesperson for the Phoenix Suns

“The Miami HEAT has a history of ensuring fair wages and fair treatment for all employees including the Miami HEAT Dancers. The HEAT Dancers are an integral part of not only our in-game entertainment, but also of our organization and are valued as such. Our dancers are not contract employees. They have the full support of our organization and we encourage them to engage in all opportunities that will further their desired career goals.” — Spokesperson for the Miami Heat

“Dancer employment is a part-time position. Dancers are compensated in compliance with wage and hour laws for all practices/rehearsals, appearances, and games.” — Spokesperson for the Orlando Magic

“The Dallas Mavericks (the ‘Mavs’) take great pride in our dancers. Our dance team is comprised of diverse, strong, and smart women who are a part of the Mavs family. While in the past we followed a few less progressive industry practices, over the last few years we have established new practices that have redefined what it means to be a professional dancer in the NBA.

“Our dancers are no longer contractors, they are part-time employees. Dancers are now paid for all of the time that they work. Previously, dancers may not have received compensation for voluntary game appearances or rehearsals, but today we pay our dancers for all mandatory rehearsals, preparation time and getting dressed for each assigned appearance, game appearances, non-game appearances (including charitable events), approved interviews and certain travel outside of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Also, the dancers are offered free food before the game. We now either meet or exceed the NBA standard for dancer compensation.

“Our dancers reflect the diverse society that they represent. Our dancers are athletes and performers. They represent most ethnicities, backgrounds, sizes, and physiques. Several years ago, we got rid of certain outdated ‘image’ industry practices because it’s not who we are. For example, a previous version of our contract contained a single clause that mentioned a weight policy. This policy provided that dancers were to remain within 5 pounds of their determined performance weight. Image concepts like this were prevalent and previously accepted in the industry; however, not anymore at the Mavs. Such policy is inconsistent with our core values, and we removed it from our agreements. If there was an industry ‘look’ in the past, we’ve changed that ‘look,’ for the better. The look is now about diversity, the art of dancing, and the dancers’ skill and performance.

“Respect is another one of our core values. We recognize that dancing in the NBA is extremely competitive and a highly sought-after position. The women who tryout are asked to perform professional routines that require a high level of skill, and a strong time commitment to perfecting their craft and performing their duties as a Mavs dancer; but everyone is not able to give this type of commitment. Despite the very competitive nature of this industry, all women who try out for the squad, whether they make the team or not, are treated with respect.

“Safety, which includes health and wellness, is also one of our core values. All physical and mental health conditions are handled with care, privacy, and sensitivity. The incident you mentioned was never brought to the attention of our dance directors. If it were, we would have acted promptly to ensure the safety and well-being of the squad members. Employee well-being is a part of our culture, and we not only support any of our employees who decide to seek medical or professional help, but we offer to help employees before and during a time of need.

“Additionally, we have put resources in place for all employees, including dancers, who have concerns related to working conditions, payment for services, requests to engage in activities the dancer feels are inappropriate or outside normal circumstances, or other matters. We encourage a ‘speak up’ culture. All the foregoing is clearly stated in the dancers’ current agreements as a reminder that such resources are available and that their safety, both mental and physical, is our concern.

“NBA dance teams are evolving, and we believe that the Mavs dance team is leading the NBA by setting the standard for diversity and inclusion, performance, compensation and work place culture. Our dancers are true mavericks. Welcome the future of dancing.” — Spokesperson for the Dallas Mavericks

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