In the NFL’s first action toward addressing growing concerns over the way teams treat their cheerleaders, the league signaled its willingness to meet with the lawyer who has filed two complaints against the league.
Sara Blackwell, who is representing former cheerleaders from the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins who claim teams discriminated against them, said she received a letter Friday from the NFL welcoming a conversation in which she can share recommendations that would improve teams’ policies and practices toward cheerleaders.
The treatment of NFL cheerleaders first came under greater scrutiny when Bailey Davis, a former Saints cheerleader, filed a complaint alleging the team had held her and male players to different standards on the basis of gender. The topic grew in fervor this week when the New York Times cited five former Washington Redskins cheerleaders who, granted anonymity, alleged team officials had them pose topless for a photo shoot when male sponsors and suite holders were present.
Blackwell had presented the NFL with a unique settlement offer last month: She would drop any litigation against the NFL if it gave her clients $1 and provided a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. She set a deadline of Friday.
While the league did not promise particulars about a conversation — such as timing or which league representatives would be involved — Blackwell found the letter to be a meaningful step by the league in addressing the problems she sees.
“I am beyond pleased with this,” Blackwell said. “I do believe this is a good-faith effort. I am very grateful for the letter. I am very happy with the response. We did not get our four-hour meeting. But as long as they give us the opportunity to have a conversation in any form or fashion, I’m very pleased.”
Blackwell said she hopes to propose rules and regulations the NFL could impose on each team to make workplace conditions equitable and free of harassment for cheerleaders.
As issues and news coverage have mounted over the past months, the NFL has kept the matter at arm’s length publicly. The league issued vague statements saying it supports all employees’ rights to a respectful workplace and reiterated individual teams set guidelines for cheerleaders. A meeting with Blackwell would be the league’s first public action in addressing concerns.
The letter was sent by lawyer Steven Hurd of Proskauer Rose, a New York law firm that often represents the NFL, Blackwell said.
For now, Blackwell said she will pause her litigation against the NFL, believing the league is sincere in its intention to listen. But, she said, she also wants to see how the conversation unfolds and what happens next.
“If they do not have a good-faith effort, and they don’t intend to do anything, I can always move forward with lit that I had planned,” Blackwell said.