It’s not a secret that cheerleading plays on sexual fantasies. Everything about the practice –more or less, depending on the team – screams it. The teams, it is safe to say, understand this and play it to their economic advantage.
But The New York Times recent report on what happened to the Washington Redskins’ squad reveals a level of sexual coercion that should not go unpunished, perhaps by law enforcement and certainly by fans.
It happened five years ago in Costa Rica. The team took the squad there for a calendar photo shoot at an adults-only resort. Some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, even though the calendar would not show nudity. Others in the squad wore only body paint.
That was bad enough, but then the Redskins invited a group of male sponsors and suite holders and granted them up-close access to the topless cheerleaders. That’s abusive.
In addition, one evening, at the end of a 14-hour workday, the squad’s director told nine of the cheerleaders they were also being required to act as personal escorts for some of the male sponsors at a nightclub. Several of them began to cry, according to The Times.
“We weren’t asked,” one of the cheerleaders said, “we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.” Their participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the organization was “pimping us out.”
And one other thing: When the squad arrived in Costa Rica, team officials collected their passports. Had the women wanted to leave, they had nowhere to go.
Some young women work hard to be selected for these squads, but that doesn’t require them to work as topless models or to function as playthings for wealthy onlookers. If that were the standard for NFL cheerleader squads, it would be time to abolish them.
Indeed, but for the young women who aspire to join these squads, it’s tempting to write them off, anyway. With the advent of gigantic, high-definition video screens, cheerleaders are less necessary to keep a crowd engaged. The proof is on the field in Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills continue to fill the stands even without the Jills, who were disbanded following a wage dispute.
At a minimum, though, the Redskins organization needs to answer to this. If the Times story is accurate, the team did pimp these young women out. That demands a penalty.