A group of Washington Redskins cheerleaders have charged the team with forcing them into a topless photo shoot during an event held in Costa Rica in 2013, according to reports.
The cheerleaders claim that the team sent them off to a calendar photo shoot in Costa Rica, but things went awry almost immediately when, then say, team officials took away their passports so that they could not leave the foreign locale, according to The New York Times.
The women said that at the shoot, held at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, they were required to go topless even as the photos for the calendar would not feature nudity. Making matters worse, the cheerleaders said that team officials invited guests to witness the shoot leaving the girls open to the ogling of strangers.
Then came this, the Times wrote:
One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.
“So get back to your room and get ready,” the director told them. Several of them began to cry.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders said. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
While the girls weren’t expected to engage in sexual activities with the guests, they claim they still felt as if they were being “pimped out.”
“The Redskins’ weeklong trip to Costa Rica in 2013 — for which the cheerleaders were paid nothing beyond transportation costs, meals and lodging, the team said — provides a vivid illustration of how N.F.L. teams have used cheerleaders for far more than sideline dancers during games,” the paper reported.
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” said one cheerleader who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to break a non-disclosure agreement. “But unfortunately, I feel like it won’t change until something terrible happens, like a girl is assaulted in some way, or raped. I think teams will start paying attention to this only when it’s too late.”
The details have emerged as part of a discrimination complaint the cheerleaders filed against the league.
Team officials, including lead Redskins choreographer Stephanie Jojokian, dispute the claims. Jojokian told the paper that no one was forced to do anything.
“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Jojokian said. “I’m the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders. It’s a big family. We respect each other and our craft. It’s such a supportive environment for these ladies.
“It breaks my heart because I’m a mom and I’ve done this for a long time,” Jojokian said choking up. “Where is this coming from? I would never put a woman in a situation like that. I actually mentor these women to be strong and to speak up, and it kills me to hear that.”
The team also released a statement:
The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in
As to the NFL, the league itself says it plays no role in how the teams administer cheer programs.
According to the Times, the women alleged that they were treated like sex objects, and even had their food restricted while on the Costa Rica trip. The complaints are moving forward.
Last month, some of the cheerleaders offered to end their complaints if the league would offer a payout to the women.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.