On Wednesday The New York Times released a detailed and scathing report alleging the Washington Redskins sent its cheerleading squad to Costa Rica, only to then confiscate their passports and put their safety at risk during a 2013 photo shoot.
According to five Redskins cheerleaders who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity, the team sent the squad to Costa Rica for its yearly calendar shoot. There the women explained that a photo shoot took place at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, where some of the women were allegedly required to be topless, while others wore nothing but body paint. While many assumed the shoot would be private, they apparently learned upon arrival that several high-level male sponsors were invited to watch.
“At one of my friend’s shoots, we were basically standing around her like a human barricade because she was basically naked, so we could keep the guys from seeing her,” one of the cheerleaders told the Times. “I was getting so angry that the guys on the trip were skeezing around in the background.”
Following the shoot, the women said that nine of their cheerleading teammates were told they had a "special assignment," which was to escort those sponsors to an area nightclub.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads," one of the cheerleaders told the Times, "but it was mandatory for us to go. We weren’t asked; we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
While the night did not involve sex, the women claimed it was tantamount to "pimping us out."
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” one cheerleader who attended the trip 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.”
Stephanie Jojokian, the director and choreographer for the Redskins' cheerleaders, denied the claims made by the women in the report. According to the Times, Jojokian choked up when asked about the allegations and said, “It breaks my heart because I’m a mom and I’ve done this for a long time. Where is this coming from? I would never put a woman in a situation like that. I actually mentor these women to be strong and to speak up, and it kills me to hear that."
In an additional statement provided to the Times, a spokesperson for the Redskins said, "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.”
Though the Redskins deny the allegations, several of the women told the Times that the trip was so damaging they chose not to return to the squad the next season.
“You kept telling yourself that it was going to get better,” one woman said. “But it never got better. Finally, I had to admit to myself, this is not what I thought it would be.”
The Redskins isn't the only team facing serious allegations for its alleged treatment of cheerleaders. In early April Kristan Ware, who spent three seasons as a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, filed a complaint against both the league and the team, claiming she was discriminated against based on her religion and gender. According to Ware's complaint, she was specifically told by two team coaches in an annual work review not to discuss her virginity.
"You have taken something that was once upon a time pure and beautiful and you’ve made it dirty," Ware claims Dolphins cheerleading director Dorie Grogan said.
Additionally, in April, Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against both the NFL and the Saints, claiming she was unfairly fired over "blatantly discriminatory" social media and fraternization policies that she says are different for cheerleaders than they are for the male players.
"The players have the freedom to post whatever they want to on social media," Davis explained to NPR after she was fired for posting an image of herself in lingerie on her personal Instagram account. "They can promote themselves, but we can't post anything on our social media about being a Saintsation. We can't have it in our profile picture, we can't use our last name for media, we can't promote ourselves, but the players don't have the same restrictions."
Both cases are still pending, though both women have offered to settle with the NFL for $1 each if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and league lawyers would agree to a meeting. "This was never about money for me," Davis told ABC News. "This is about having respect for our sport and standing up for our sport and standing up for women."
The NFL provided this official statement to The New York Times: “Everyone who works in the NFL, including cheerleaders, has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws. Our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace.”