Redskins President Bruce Allen voiced concern and promised an internal investigation into the allegations the day after the report, in which unidentified cheerleaders said they were asked to go topless or wear only body paint as well-heeled suite holders ogled them during the photo shoot, which was marketed as an exclusive getaway.
Roughly five months later, a Redskins spokesman outlined the findings of the team’s investigation, conducted with input from the McGuireWoods law firm, and enumerated the corrective steps underway or under consideration.
Based on interviews with 22 people associated with the cheerleading program (including 16 current or former cheerleaders, the director and assistant director of the squad, and support staff), the Redskins corroborated some details in the article, such as cheerleaders forming a human barricade to shield against onlookers when exposed, but refuted others, Redskins spokesman Maury Lane said Thursday.
“Nobody recalled being forced to remove bikini tops during the photo shoot or wear body paint,” Lane said. “While all aspects [of the Times report] are accurate, on balance it is greatly exaggerated and dramatized the events.”
Not all current and former cheerleaders approached agreed to speak with the Redskins’ deputy counsel, who conducted the interviews.
Among the changes adopted to date, according to Lane:
●Suite holders are no longer permitted on the cheerleaders’ photo-shoot trips. Instead, two female Prince George’s County police officers accompanied the squad on its June trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to shoot the 2018-19 swimsuit calendar. Moreover, the cheerleaders didn’t attend evening parties off the resort, as occurred on previous trips. Some told the Times they had been handpicked to socialize with suite holders at a nightclub and felt “pimped out” as a result.
●Redskins cheerleaders won’t be quite as scantily clad this season. Team officials reviewed their 22 existing outfits and chose the five “most conservative” for their 2018 uniforms. For the preseason game against the Denver Broncos, they wore black leggings with their sparkly bra-tops, and for the Sept. 16 home opener against the Indianapolis Colts, their bustier-style tops included billowy, elbow-length sleeves.
●While Stephanie Jojokian, the longtime director of the Redskins’ cheerleaders, has not been dismissed, oversight of the squad has been placed under the team’s new chief marketing officer, with a mission of being more “family friendly.”
While some cheerleaders on other NFL teams have filed grievances over poor wages and alleged unfair labor practices, the league maintains it has no role in setting or enforcing workplace standards for the squads. It’s up to the teams to do so.
A Florida-based employment lawyer who represents former cheerleaders (one with the New Orleans Saints and another with the Miami Dolphins) on discrimination claims said Thursday that what is required to improve the lot of NFL cheerleaders is a “culture change.”
“They’re terrified. They’re told, ‘If you don’t like what you hear or what you’re doing, there are a million girls who will take your job,’ ” said Sara Blackwell, the Sarasota-based lawyer. “For many, it’s their dream job, so they’re in a position where they are vulnerable to being exploited and treated poorly.”
Blackwell, who is consulting with the NFL on ways to elevate cheerleaders’ status and income, has recommended that the NFL designate an outside, third party whom cheerleaders can call, without fear of losing their jobs, to find out whether their grievances are unlawful, unfair or simply part of life. That independent third party would serve as a sounding board for cheerleaders, as well as be equipped to work with teams on addressing any improper or potentially illegal workplace issues.
As for the measures the Redskins are taking, Blackwell said: “I’m glad the Redskins are paying attention and glad they’ve done an internal audit. Something is better than nothing. But without being able to have somebody trusted to talk to, there’s no way of knowing if they’re doing the right things.”