The Washington Redskins are under fire after a New York Times report raised disturbing allegations about the way franchise officials have treated the team's cheerleaders, with former squad members saying the team put them in vulnerable situations for the benefit of sponsors and big-spending ticket holders.
The Times cited five former Redskins cheerleaders who described a 2013 photo shoot for a team calendar in Costa Rica. At the shoot, according to the report, male sponsors and suite holders observed cheerleaders posing topless or in body paint. After a 14-hour day of photos and dance practice, nine cheerleaders were chosen to serve as personal escorts for the sponsors and suite holders at a nightclub. The arrangement did not include sex, the women said.
Also present at the nightclub, according to the report, were two prominent Redskins officials: senior vice president for operations Lon Rosenberg and president of business operations Dennis Greene.
Stephanie Jojokian, director of the Redskins' cheerleaders, denied that she forced any cheerleaders to go to the nightclub and disputed the five women's accounts.
A Redskins spokesman said the team would decline to comment.
The report also detailed a 2012 mandatory "team-bonding" party on the yacht of a businessman and former suite holder named William Teel Jr. According to five cheerleaders the Times cited, other men were on the boat when the cheerleaders boarded, and they were given copious alcohol and encouraged to participate in suggestive dance contests.
Teel told the Times that he believed no one from the Redskins pressured cheerleaders to attend the party and "no one was disrespected."
The report comes as the NFL's practices toward cheerleaders have come under scrutiny. Two former cheerleaders — one with the New Orleans Saints and one with the Miami Dolphins — have recently filed discrimination claims against their former teams, one on the grounds of gender discrimination, the other on gender and religious grounds.
The Times report "made me cry," said Sara Blackwell, the Florida lawyer representing the two cheerleaders who filed the discrimination cases. "It made my stomach sick. I think [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell has the power to change this and every single one of the teams, but he is choosing to not do it."
Blackwell wants to meet with Goodell to discuss cheerleader welfare and has said Bailey Davis, the former Saints cheerleader, will drop her case for a payment of $1 if the NFL agrees to a meeting.
"The NFL statement is constantly that the cheerleaders deserve a professional environment free of discrimination and sexual harassment," Blackwell said. "Apparently, they mean they deserve it — the NFL just has no intention to actually provide it. That's very clear by the lack of response thus far from Goodell to the media, the cheerleaders or to our settlement demand."
The NFL did not return a request for comment Wednesday evening. The league has maintained that individual teams are responsible for policies regarding cheerleading teams and said every NFL employee deserves a respectful workplace free of discrimination.
One former Redskins cheerleader said keeping their weight within specified limits is no longer contractually obligated, but that team members understand that certain body proportions must be kept to remain on the team. "You know it exists," she said. "They may not have it writing, but it exists."