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Very Real

The NFL May Have A Sexism Problem, Says Former Saints Cheerleader

Bailey Davis says she was fired over unfair rules that players are not expected to follow. The rules for being a cheerleader may surprise you.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

(A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a NFL game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Bailey Davis claims that she lost her job over an Instagram photo.

Davis, a former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints, says she was fired days after she posted a photo of herself in January, on her private Instagram page, of herself wearing a lace, one-piece outfit. In an interview with the New York Times, Davis said that she’d been accused of breaking a team rule that prohibits cheerleaders from appearing nude, semi-nude, or in lingerie on social media. Around the time the photo was posted, Davis says that team officials were also looking into whether she had attended a party with members of the New Orleans Saints – something else that’s against the rules, and which Davis denies even occurred.

As a member of the Saintsations cheerleading squad, Davis and all other members were required to avoid having contact with any of the players either in person or online, according to both the cheerleader’s handbook, and emails and text messages reviewed by the New York Times. As part of this “anti-fraternization policy,” cheerleaders are also required to block all players from following them on social media and are not allowed to post photos of themselves on social media wearing team paraphernalia. Such rules do not exist for NFL players, according to Davis and the New York Times. While cheerleaders are charged with the responsibility of avoiding players — to the point where they must even leave a restaurant or other public space if a player walks in, People reports — the same cannot be said of NFL players.

Davis has filed a discrimination complaint against the NFL team with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that female cheerleaders and male football players are required to follow two vastly different sets of rules.

“It’s not fair that we’ve worked our whole lives to do this professional job, as well as the players have, and we’re stifled by these rules,” Davis told Today in an interview.

Outside legal counsel for the New Orleans Saints denies partaking in any gender-based discrimination in a statement, WWL-TV reports.

"The New Orleans Saints is an equal opportunity employer, and it denies that Ms. Davis was discriminated against because she is female,” it reads. “The Saints will defend these allegations in due course, and the Organization is confident that its policies and workplace rules will withstand legal scrutiny."

Davis said that she isn’t expecting to get her job back, but is hoping to make a difference and create a more fair set of rules for cheerleaders.

"We want equality," Sara Blackwell, Davis's lawyer, told reporters. "The NFL owners are meeting right now in Orlando and we want it to be on their agenda to look at these antiquated, very old time, not American discriminatory rules and just make them equal. Treat women how they should be treated in 2018."

In 2014, cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills filed a lawsuit against the team and the NFL, alleging that they were not paid minimum wage or overtime, were subjected to sexual harassment, and were expected to adhere to strict rules, some of which even included detailed instructions on personal hygiene. Cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders filed a similar suit in 2014 as well, and received compensation from a $1.25 million settlement in 2017.

Unfortunately, sexism in the NFL is not a new topic, and the issue goes beyond players and cheerleaders. In December, sports broadcaster Lindsay McCormick opened up about the sexism she faced during her career, recounting one notable instance when an executive at the NFL Network allegedly asked her during an interview if she planned to get “knocked up immediately” after getting hired, “like the rest of them.”