Cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins say they were pressured by their employers into escort work and topless photoshoots.
Members of the cheerleading squad told the New York Times they were coerced into the acts in 2013 duing a trip to Costa Rica for a promotional calendar photo shoot.
After having their passports collected by the trip's organizers, the women were told they were required to be topless for the project. A group of all-male sponsors attended to event.
Later that night, nine of the 36 women were told they had been selected as escorts for some of the men, according to the Times. Although the women say sex was not required of them, at least one said she felt as if the team was “pimping us out.”
The cheerleaders who described the alleged incidents asked to remain anonymous, as they had signed confidentiality agreements when they joined the team.
“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.”
Stephanie Jojokian, the director and choreographer for the Redskins’ cheerleaders, told a very different story.
“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Jojokian told the Times. “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.”
The Redskins denied the allegations in a statement saying each 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," the team said.
The NFL said in a statement that it has "no role" in the handling of cheerleaders.
"Our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace," the league said in a statement that had previously been issued as a response to other allegations about misconduct.
The cheerleaders also recalled a 2012 situation in which Jojokian allegedly announced a "mandatory team bonding trip" before corralling the women onto the yacht of William R. Teel Jr., a Redskins suite holder and local businessman. Five cheerleaders described the event as an alcohol-filled party where the women were encouraged to participate in twerking contests. None of the women say they were touched non-consensually. Teel said the women were not placed in a compromising position and "no one was allowed to be disrespected."
Teel maintains that the situation the women were placed in was in no way compromising.
The allegations come in the wake of lawsuits from two former NFL cheerleaders who say they faced potentially discriminatory practices from the league.
Kristan Ware, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, filed a complaint in April 2018 against the league and her team claiming she faced discrimination based on her sex and religion. One month before that, Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being fired for social media posts that the team claims violated their policies.
The NFL responded to the suits with a statement saying all of its workers, including cheerleaders, "has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws."
Sara Blackwell, the Florida lawyer representing the two cheerleaders who filed the discrimination cases, said the latest allegations from the Redskins made her cry.
"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 told the Los Angeles Times.
[Photo: Icon Sportswire / Getty Images]