2.7 The NFL & Cheerleading


Listening to the Dan Le Batard show a few days ago, I decided to write into the show. However, my tweet became too long so I decided to write the following article:

I love sports. I watch it, listen to it, and play when I can. When I’m in the car, I listen to sports radio. I typically disagree with Dan Le Batard on most issues, but today I found myself in agreement with him. He was discussing the recent New York Times report about Redskins cheerleaders. He suggested, “I think that within my lifetime women cheerleaders will cease to exist, at least in the NFL. Women have been made to be an accessory in order to bring attention to a man’s sport.” These may not have been Mr. Le Batard’s exact words, but this is an accurate paraphrase, and I am inclined to agree with him.

I quickly read the New York Times report (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/sports/redskins-cheerleaders-nfl.html). Let me note a few of the glaring problems as highlighted in the article:

. Redskins cheerleaders were told that they were to be personal escorts for male sponsors. “It was mandatory for us to go,” said one of the cheerleaders. Several of these women ended up in tears.

. While attending a wild gathering (i.e. party) on a yacht, men shot liquor into the cheerleaders’ mouths with turkey basters. Meanwhile, other men handed out cash prizes in twerking contests.

. At a 2013 calendar shoot, some of the women were “required to be topless” and the Redskins had invited spectators who were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

. “We were too scared to complain,” said one cheerleader.

. The cheerleaders felt that they were made to feel worthless and unprotected, as if they were “pimping us out,” one of the women said. “You kept telling yourself that it was going to get better. But it never got better.” Several of the women did not return to the team the next season.

How can this be?! In a time and generation that is trying to liberate women from the shackles of male chauvinism, why is this type of behavior permitted? One group of people who could make immediate change is the NFL owners – composed primarily of rich men, not a likely group to make an immediate change, especially if it would negatively impact their bottom line (i.e. income).

Why is it permissible for cheerleaders to be “pimped out” by the NFL (Redskins organization)? They should not be made to feel worthless, unprotected, and too scared to complain. Men should honor women, not abuse them.

My point in this article is to highlight a problem: how do we help women from becoming trapped in a culture that makes them feel worthless and unprotected? There is a difference between a woman voluntarily becoming a cheerleader and being forced to be a personal escort, isn’t there? Where is the outcry when a woman is forced to participate in an activity that is sexual in nature? One of the Redskins cheerleaders warned that nothing will be done until it’s too late – an assault or rape. Why are we waiting until it’s too late?

Here’s what I don’t understand and where I’ll conclude: the NFL has been very clear that there will be zero tolerance for “domestic abuse.” Male athletes should not be abusing females, and I completely agree. But what doesn’t make sense is this: when female employees of the league (i.e. cheerleaders) are put in compromising positions, made to feel worthless and unprotected, where is the outcry? Why isn’t there a zero tolerance policy for this type of abuse? That’s a pretty big problem that the NFL needs to address, and it seems inconsistent to make one type of abuse an important issue (i.e. domestic abuse), but turn a blind-eye to the other.

By the way, the NFL owners have the power to make immediate change. There are no less than six female owners (or co-owners) of NFL teams. These female owners could (and should) have a significant voice in protecting female cheerleaders. Of course, one would hope that the male owners would lead this fight to honor and protect these women. Either way, if that means the NFL no longer has cheerleaders, so be it. It’s better to take decisive action now than wait until it’s too late.