Ex-Washington Redskins cheerleaders, They are thought of by millions to hold the most glamorous job in sports. Their toned bodies earn them coveted spots on the sidelines of this country’s most popular sport, and their perfect smiles light up television screens across the U.S. every Sunday from August to February. But according to complaints filed last month, and reviewed by MarieClaire.com, the work life of NFL cheerleaders is anything but glamorous. Instead, it’s defined by gender discrimination, religious discrimination, and a limited ability to profit off their experiences.
The complaints, filed by Florida-based attorney Sara Blackwell on behalf of former Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ware and former Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis, paint a picture of a bleak environment in which cheerleaders are subject to inconsistent, draconian rules policing their personal lives and social media accounts, and offered little in the way of protection from over-excited—and often just plain gross—admirers.
In her complaint to the EEOC, Davis alleges that the Saints human resources department called her into a meeting in January to discuss rumors that she’d been socializing with players at an event away from the field. Like many of their NFL counterparts, the Saintsations cheer squad must adhere to a strict policy preventing dancers from fraternizing with football players.
Davis denies hanging out with Saints at the party. But when she mentioned to HR that she had received Instagram messages from players during her three years as a Saintsation, she was asked how it was possible that players had found her on the site. Though she maintains she never responded to messages, Davis says she agreed to make her Instagram account private. After the meeting, Davis says the Saints instructed all cheerleaders to do the same.
Later that month, Davis posted a picture on her account posing in a lacy one-piece black bodysuit. She says one of her superiors texted her to say she had exhibited very poor judgment, and told her that the image made her look guilty of the rumors regarding fraternization and that her “dirty face” made the image even more inappropriate. Davis says she was then fired.
Ware’s allegations are particularly disturbing. According to her complaint before the Florida Commission on Human Relations, during a team bus ride, the Dolphins cheerleaders played a game in which they listed songs on their “sex playlists;” when Ware said she didn’t have one, her superiors found out that she was a virgin who, because of her religious beliefs, was waiting until marriage to have sex.
A few months after the bus game—and two days after she posted about an image of her recent baptism on Instagram—Ware, a co-captain, she says she was called into a meeting with her bosses, standard for all returning cheerleaders planning to audition to earn a spot on next year’s squad. During the meeting, a superior said to Ware, “let’s talk about your virginity.” For reasons Ware says she still doesn’t understand, her superior said “as far as we’re concerned, you’ve taken something that was once-upon-a-time pure and beautiful and you’ve made it dirty.” Another superior added that while she thought it was “still beautiful,” Ware needed to stop talking about it.