Subscribe for 33¢ / day

FORT WORTH, Texas — It might be time to disband NFL cheerleadering squads.

Bear with me while I explain.

Cynthia M. Allen mug

Cynthia M. Allen

Last week, The New York Times reported how a 2013 Washington Redskins Cheerleaders calendar photo shoot in Costa Rica went horribly awry for some of the women.

According to accounts of those present, the shoot, though held at a secluded resort, became a kind of spectator sport. As the Times wrote, “a contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots,” causing many of the cheerleaders to feel anxious and uncomfortable. Several cheerleaders said they were required to pose topless, adding to their unease.

The Times catalogued other mandatory trip activities, including how nine of the team’s 36 members were selected by sponsors to be personal escorts to a night club later that evening. Several Redskins officials were also at the club, where the women were “encouraged (by a staff member) to drink and flirt,” creating a sense that the team’s management condoned the event. While none of the cheerleaders interviewed alleged inappropriate touching by any of the team sponsors, several said the entire incident made them feel unsafe, worthless and unprotected. It’s not difficult to imagine why.

The paper’s reporting, though upsetting, is far from shocking. This is the era of Harvey Weinstein-style revelations, after all, and these allegations are relatively tame. They’re also extremely common in professional cheerleading circles.

The Redskins cheerleaders may have been spared unwelcome touching in Costa Rica, but many NFL cheerleaders admit that groping, sexual harassment and uncomfortable situations are all hazards of the job.

In late April, the Times chronicled the experiences of current and former professional cheerleaders of multiple teams, the overwhelming majority of whom described their jobs, not as elite dancers, but as sex objects navigating a world of rowdy, drunk and “handsy” fans.

“When you have on a push-up bra and a fringed skirt, it can sometimes, unfortunately, feel like it comes with the territory,” a former cheerleader for the Tennessee Titans told the Times.

To be fair, how could it not?

That’s not a defense of the inappropriate behavior these women face, merely an acknowledgment that their profession by its very nature, is ripe for this kind of harassment. In fact, it’s the embodiment of everything the #MeToo movement is seeking to repudiate — that notion that women are first and foremost, sexual objects.

Thanks to Weinstein, we know how deeply this ethos is ingrained in our popular culture. Sports are no exception.

Indeed, scantily-clad cheerleaders performing titillating dance moves on the sidelines are as baked into America’s Sunday afternoon rituals as tailgating and beer. American families can barely watch a sporting event without seeing the hyper-sexualized image of a female shaking her backside during half-time.

And it doesn’t seem to faze us, either. A recent national poll found that most Americans — 56 percent to 31 percent — do not think cheerleading costumes are too provocative, although there was disagreement between the sexes. Women were more disapproving of cheerleader uniforms.

The cheerleaders themselves are divided. Many appear to understand that sex sells and don’t seem bothered that it’s their sexuality in particular that’s being peddled. Others suggest their complacency is from fear of losing their jobs.

Either way, there’s a competitive market for what they do. And with a long line of willing and eager women waiting to fill any vacancy, there isn’t much incentive for team managers to change the way things are done.

So back to my proposition. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, businesses everywhere have been trying to reduce opportunities for harassment in the workplace.

Feminists and commentators have been trying to dismantle the cultural underpinnings that have made sexism and female sexualization — especially at work — so prevalent.

What do you do when selling female sexuality is the job?

If the #MeToo movement wants to make a marked difference, disbanding NFL cheerleading teams might be a good place to start.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Cynthia M. Allen can be reached at cmallen@star-telegram.com.

0
1
0
0
1

(7) comments

HolmenPackerFan

Analysis and comments offered by someone who didn't even read the article? Perhaps you should read it before lashing out, oldhomey. It wasn't about cheerleaders at the games. It's about what happened away from the games...topless photo shoots which gave dirty old men access to 'the girls' in private. It shouldn't happen.

The NFL and most professional sports offer entertainment beyond the actual sporting event in order to engage fans. Though the Packers do not have an official cheer-leading squad, a squads' performances at sporting events offer more than an opportunity to 'ogle the girls'. If you watch some of them, especially at college football games, their performances are often intricately-choreographed and include acrobatics. They can and do add to the game day experience and have as much or as little to do with the sport as the mascots, marching bands, music acts and military displays which can be seen at sporting events too. Seeing cheerleaders perform, jets flying over at low altitude or a great band is impressive and an entertaining spectacle.

Not so impressive is when the Redskins organization truly exploit and sexualize their cheerleaders by putting them in push-up bras and forcing them to mix up close and personal with the handsy male sponsors and suite-holders at a junket in Costa Rica. I expect the Redskins organization is not the only team in the NFL doing this sort of thing. The women sign up to be cheerleaders voluntarily for many reasons, like them or not. They know sex sells and their beauty is the reason they are hired.Like it or not, you won't likely find Janet Reno's doppelganger performing on the sidelines any more than you will find the chubby, asthmatic kid from math club playing corner back. It isn't what people want to see. But it's clear from this story that none of them signed up to be team prostitutes or strippers. We can agree, the NFL doesn't need cheerleaders to do this.

oldhomey

Touche, HPF. Of course it is not good form to comment on a column that I have not read, but I simply answered the question asked by the headline. No, I don't think professional sports teams need scantily clad female cheerleaders. And it seems pretty obvious that women who do work as cheerleaders for a professional sports organization are going to be vulnerable to abuse by their employers and/or fellow employees. Snow Cougar seems to think I am "at war" with women for holding such a view, so I guess she is all for such abuse so long as there is a buck to be made by it. The writer of this column is a master of the obvious, dull and predictable, so I chose not to read it and simply answer the question in the headline. I don't think I offered any analysis or comment beyond that in my initial response to the headline.

Tim Russell

This is a very important issue.

Bwaahahaha!

Mr Wizard

C'mon girls, you all can't be librarians! If it weren't for you, no one in Wisconsin would watch the Cowboys.

oldhomey

Without reading the column (which I have not), I will give my answer to the question in the headline: No.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

oldhomeys "War on Women"

[thumbdown][censored]

oldhomey

more deeply reasoned analysis from Snow, our resident fascist. Do you like to ogle the cheerleaders, Snow? What would that be all about? It is not the most unpleasant thing in the world for me to watch the girls do their leg kicks, flips and splits, but I can't imagine feeling that something was missing from the game if there were no cheerleaders at an NFL contest. H.S. and college, perhaps, as that is part of the whole school spirit thing, but pro football? No.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe or log in to continue.