Four of the five former Houston Texans cheerleaders who filed a lawsuit Friday against the team spoke out in appearances Monday on NBC. They described a workplace in which they were underpaid or, at times, not paid at all for work they did, not given adequate protection from aggressive fans and subjected to intimidation and body-shaming.
Of the five, only Morgan Weiderhold was absent, with Kelly Neuner, Ainsley Parish, Ashley Rodriguez and Hannah Turnbow detailing their experiences in interviews on the “Today” show and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.” They were accompanied by their attorney, Gloria Allred, who also led them to the NFL’s Manhattan headquarters, where she presented a letter to be given to Commissioner Roger Goodell, demanding that cheerleaders stop “being exploited and mistreated solely because they are women.”
Asked by “Today” hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb about the accusation that the Texans subjected cheerleaders to a hostile work environment, Parish said, “It’s very, very uncomfortable, on a daily basis.”
“They body-shame you to your face,” Parish added. “They are extremely bullying tactics, and they instill this fear in you that they hold your entire success and opportunity in their hands.”
A separate class-action lawsuit had been filed last month on behalf of three former Texans cheerleaders, accusing the team of similar abuses. The NFL is also facing legal actions from women who used to work as cheerleaders for the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, and the Washington Redskins have faced recent accusations that they compelled some of their cheerleaders to pose topless in front of sponsors and act as de facto dates for suite holders.
“We weren’t valued, we weren’t paid, we were not respected. So, no, this is not what we signed up for,” Rodriguez said on “Nightly News.”
Examples the women cited of body-shaming included being called terms such as “skinny fat” and “jelly belly” by team officials. A plaintiff in the other suit against the Texans said to The Post’s Adam Kilgore in May that cheerleader coach Alto Gary had told several of her colleagues to go without eating for a couple days before a game.
“The Houston Texans have been repeatedly recognized as one of the top workplaces in our city,” the team said Monday in a statement. “We take pride in the environment we provide for our staff and we are constantly looking for ways to improve the experience of our employees, including the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.
“While we have not been served in this case, we have reviewed the complaints and look forward to vigorously defending ourselves against these allegations,” the Texans continued. “We appreciate the Houston Texans Cheerleaders for the positive impact they have made in our community and for the outstanding way they have represented our organization for nearly two decades. If there are things we learn from this process that we feel will make our cheer program even better, we will make the necessary adjustments. We do not tolerate mistreatment of our cheer team or our employees at any time.”
Turnbow described a situation to Guthrie and Kotb in which she was sent into the stands to interact with fans, only to be grabbed and pulled by a man who ran up to her and said he wanted a hug. She told the hosts that she wasn’t provided with the protection that she expected.
“By the time he got to me, he put his hands between my collarbone and shoulder and pulled me down a stair,” she said. “ … I told my alumni that was with me, and nothing was done. We went straight to the next place and did another appearance.”
Guthrie noted that the Texans said they stopped sending cheerleaders into the stands after that incident. She then asked Neuner to comment on the accusation that the cheerleaders were asked to perform extra tasks, without being compensated for all of them.
“I didn’t know necessarily what they were doing was illegal, as far as not paying us for certain things,” Neuner said. “They kind of take a little bit of advantage of us, because we’re young and we’re women, to just accept that there’s certain things that we have to pay out of pocket and not be reimbursed for.”
Asked later by NBC reporter Stephanie Gosk if they ever spoke up and demanded to be paid for the additional work, Turnbow said, “Everyone’s scared to speak up. If I speak up, I’m pretty much done for on that team. That’s pretty much how it is.”
Allred told the “Today” hosts that the cheerleaders only discovered that they would be paid $7.25 an hour after emerging from a grueling competition with hundreds of other aspirants. She claimed that the women were subsequently “being cheated out of that minimum wage,” because they are “not paid for many of their practices, and they are not reimbursed for many of their expenses.”
The fifth cheerleader represented by Allred, Weiderhold, had offered some criticisms of the Texans on Friday, saying in a statement, “When I tried to have my own voice and be my own individual, I was crucified and feared for my job. From out-of-country trips to my image being sold on cups in gas stations and in the stadium, I was never fully compensated for my time nor did I receive any share of profits from the merchandise.”
“They make it seem like it’s just such a dream on their social medias,” Turnbow said Monday. “You don’t sign up for something and think it’s gonna become what it was.”
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