April 4, 2018 Podcast, New York: In recent months a spotlight has been shone upon the dark side of being on the sidelines of the National Football League. The cheerleaders of the National Football League have long been chafed under the strict guidelines placed upon them with little to no reward. The Saints recently fired cheerleader Bailey Davis for a photo that the team deemed inappropriate on her personal Instagram account. Davis responded by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the team claiming unfair treatment. New York Times writer Ken Belson stopped by HWTP Sports Talk to discuss the pending lawsuit filed by Davis as well as his investigative article into the restrictions placed upon NFL cheerleaders.
One point Ken and David stressed early in the interview is that Davis’ complaint is the first step in the long process to ligation with the Saints. If the claim is found to have merit she may go through with a lawsuit against the team. Davis isn’t the first cheerleader to sue a team but given the ongoing national conversation taking place about sexual harassment any claim of gender bias will receive extra scrutiny especially given the troubles the NFL has had with domestic violence as well as the inherent sexualization of cheerleading within the league.
Ken also provided new insights not shared in the original Times article. Of all the controlling policies, Ken examined the anti-fraternization clause which seemed to have appalled him the most. A clause which on the surface seems to be in the best interests of all involved as it is meant to prevent cheerleaders from being taken advantage of by players and other male personnel. However, the clause is so restrictive that if a cheerleader does so much as anything more than say ‘good game’ or ‘hello’ to a player, she is in violation of the clause. Players face no repercussions for hitting on cheerleaders whereas cheerleaders can be fired for not distancing themselves from the predatory behavior of the players.
HWTP listeners chimed in by stating, “So sexist! These men can't keep it in their pants so the onus is on the Cheerleaders!" and “Another form of the NFL controlling cheerleaders.
Players, who are unionized and protected employees, face restrictions nowhere near as strict as cheerleaders. Ken uses the example of a cheerleader eating in a restaurant. Should a player enter the same establishment, the cheerleader must leave. Should a player be there first, the cheerleader must exit the restaurant. Restrictions on social media are also intense including no geotagging, pages set to private, and blocking players who attempt to contact them via these platforms. Everything from what they post to where they eat and how much they weigh is controlled by the cheerleaders’ handbook -- violations of these rules can lead to termination of what is essentially a part-time, minimum wage job.
Another point that David and Ken discussed is that by restricting cheerleaders from posting photos in team uniforms or even with logos they are hindering their commerce. A point perhaps the average fan may not consider. With yearly auditions or occasional limits on how long these women can cheer for a team, they need to build a brand. For example, Davis, who filed a complaint with the EEOC, wasn’t allowed to reveal that she was a Saints cheerleader, which hindered her during job hunts -- she couldn’t list it on her resume or LinkedIn profile. Not only was she fired for a minor violation of the policy that wouldn’t even get a player fined, they also hindered her ability to find other gainful employment in her chosen profession, dance.
We could see a shift in these policies as the new owner of the Saints is a woman. Could this along with the steady growth of female fans and the #metoo movement be the momentum needed to see an actual change to these handbooks or will the team settle with Davis and be back to business as usual as some teams gear up to audition new cheerleaders this weekend.
Keep tuning in to HWTP Sports Talk for further developments on Davis’ on-going battle with the Saints as well as other thought-provoking sports stories.