US cheerleaders reveal the horrible sexual harassment they are confronted with
While the #MeToo and Time's Up initiatives endeavoured to give a voice to victims of sexual harassment and abuse everywhere, it's evident in our current situation - namely, a somewhat uncertain landscape - that we still have a way to go.
Certainly, professional cheerleaders, who represent various teams and sports in the US, have asserted that being groped and sexually harassed are just part of the job.
In a series of interviews conducted by The New York Times, dozens of employed and erstwhile cheerleaders from the NFL, NBA and NHL described a culture of gross sexual misconduct - where they are groped by drunken fans and subjected to offensive sexual comments.
"When you have on a push-up bra and a fringed skirt, it can sometimes, unfortunately, feel like it comes with the territory,” stated Labriah Lee Holt, a former cheerleader for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. "I never experienced anything where someone on the professional staff or the team said something or made me feel that way. But you definitely experience that when you encounter people who have been drinking beer."
While cheerleaders for The Dallas Cowboys were told what to say to such attendees, they were simultaneously urged not be rude or to upset fans. "We were taught, if someone’s getting handsy on you, how to navigate that," said a former longtime Cowboys cheerleader. "We were told what to say, like, ‘That’s not very nice,’ To be sweet, not rude. Say, ‘Can I ask you to step over here?’ Use body language to help deter the situation. Never be mean. Never. Always courteous. Because if it’s not for the fans, we wouldn’t be here — that’s how we were supposed to think of this."
Certainly, cheerleaders have frequently asserted that team officials do little to prevent harassment. While they are expected to mingle with fans during and after games, Ms Holt says that there isn't "any protection". "You have to run around the tailgates, go to the tents, mingle with fans and shake the pompoms. And you sometimes get the disgusting old men who have been drinking and will say something inappropriate. It is common, and the industry knows that."
A cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys - who has remained anonymous, as she, like many, was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement - recalled a particularly harrowing encounter:
"We were walking by, waving and smiling, and one [Philadelphia Eagles fan] caught my eye. He looked at me and said, ‘I hope you get raped!’ That’s the kind of stuff we’d have yelled at us. Even from our fans, once they get drunk, they yell things, and you’re like, ‘Really?’ It’s part of the job. It comes with it. You’re supposed to take it."
The Dallas Cowboys and the Titans have not yet responded to requests for comment, and the NFL has refused to address specific claims made by cheerleaders. In a statement, the league asserted "The NFL and all NFL member clubs support fair employment practices. Employees and associates of the NFL have the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment."