In 2013, the Washington Redskins football team took its cheerleading squad to Costa Rica for a photo shoot. In a new report from the New York Times, it was revealed the photo shoot put the women in an extremely exploitive situation. Many of the women were asked to shoot topless or wear only body paint, and do so in front of invited spectators, who were high-paying Redskins fans.
The photo shoot took place at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort. When they arrived in the country, team officials took their passports. The resort is secluded, but the presence of all-male sponsors and suite holders with the Washington Redskins made the proceedings more revealing than what’s normal conduct for a calendar shoot.
One evening during the trip, the cheerleading squad’s director told nine of the women that some of the male sponsors had selected them to be their personal escorts for the night. The cheerleaders said their participation did not involve sex, but they felt as if the team was “pimping us out.” It was not part of their job description.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders told the NYT. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
The women were paid nothing beyond transportation costs, meals and lodging.
The incident appears to be part of a wider pattern of abuse in how NFL teams treat their cheerleading squads. Two former cheerleaders recently filed discrimination complaints against the league for treating them as sex objects made to titillate male fans away from the context of a game.
“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 said (five came forward to the Times under the condition of anonymity). “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.”
The director of the Redskins’ cheerleading squad has denied the claims, saying the nightclub appearances were not mandatory for the nine women singled out. The Redskins also released a statement saying that each cheerleader is “contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.