Another stipulation for settling the claims is that the teams could not disband existing cheerleader squads for at least five years, the attorney, Sara Blackwell, told the New York Times. Blackwell and her clients, former Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis and former Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ware, want to forestall teams from retaliating against any other of their colleagues, following a spate of stories about restrictive and sexist rules that had the NFL issuing a recent statement affirming its “support” for “fair employment practices.”
“We’re not asking them to admit fault, or to admit guilt, or even admit that there is anything wrong,” Blackwell said to the Times, noting that she gave the league a deadline of May 4 to respond to the offer. “But if they do want and expect that cheerleaders should have a fair working environment, as they have stated, then it doesn’t make any common sense why the answer would be no.”
Davis was fired by the Saints in January, after three years with the team in which she said she scrupulously adhered to an eight-page rule book, for having posted a photo to her private Instagram account that the team deemed excessively racy — she was posing in a one-piece lacy bodysuit — and for rumors that she was at a party that also included New Orleans players. Cheerleaders are commonly barred from having any association with players, to the point of having to leave restaurants if players enter and having to block them from becoming social-media followers, and they are often subjected to strict limits on how they can represent themselves.
Those sorts of rules frequently do not apply to players, which Davis found unfair. With Blackwell’s guidance, she filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Saints and the NFL, pointing to different standards for female cheerleaders and male players.
“I was really inspired by Aly Raisman and her speaking out about USA Gymnastics,” Davis told The Washington Post earlier this month. “That’s kind of who I’ve been looking to as far as getting confidence in speaking out, how she interviews, and how it wasn’t okay. At the time, when I was in the organization, I didn’t realize these rules were not okay. It wasn’t okay for us to be treated like that.”
Ware quit her gig with the Dolphins after three years in part, she claimed, because of hostility she encountered for her religious beliefs, including for being a virgin. Inspired by the example of Davis and the advice of Blackwell, she filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations accusing the team and the league of discrimination based on gender and religion.
“There is a sense of manipulation, where any time you raised a concern, it was like, ‘All we need is a pretty girl to wear the uniform. You’re completely replaceable, so if you have a problem with it, leave. One hundred other girls want your spot,’ ” Ware said. “I want to make a positive difference where these girls can have their dreams come true without compromising who they are. The silence needs to end. The intimidation needs to end.”
“Everyone who works in the NFL, including cheerleaders, has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws,” the NFL said in its statement. “Our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace.”
Blackwell responded to those words in her letter to the league presenting the offer. “If the NFL is serious about this statement, then this should be an acceptable settlement demand,” she wrote (via the Times). “It is one that is virtually free for the NFL and for the NFL teams and it will ensure the positive and respectful environment the NFL states is the right of the NFL cheerleaders.”
The proposed meeting would include Davis and Ware, plus two other cheerleaders from teams other than the Saints and Dolphins. Blackwell acknowledged that there was a “risk” the league could accept the settlement terms, then “patronize us and do nothing in the end,” but she said it was a chance worth taking to effect “real change” for cheerleaders.
“I’m the worst lawyer when it comes to making money. What we’re looking for is equality and fairness,” Blackwell said Tuesday to the National Law Journal. “I won’t take clients that don’t have the same goal. If a cheerleader says she wants to make a billion dollars from this, I would probably find them someone else.”