It’s no secret that NFL cheerleaders are underpaid, undervalued, and held to ridiculous beauty standards by NFL oranganizations.
But on Sunday, the New York Times published an infuriating report that reveals that some teams exert almost maniacal control over both the public image and personal lives of cheerleaders — all based on toxic, outdated notions of how both men and women should behave.
The article tells the story of Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader who has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The main issue at hand involves the restrictions that NFL teams routinely put in place barring players from fraternizing with their respective team’s cheerleaders. As it turns out, the Saints are so particularly worried about the matter that they put the impetus fully on the cheerleaders to avoid NFL players in all social situations, be it on social media, at a restaurant, or at a party.
In her complaint, Davis claims she was fired by the Saints for posting a photo of herself in a one-piece bathing suit on her private Instagram and for attending a party at which Saints players may have been in attendance. On the latter charge, Davis denies that she violated any team regulation. But as the report makes clear, undertaking a good faith effort to avoid NFL players in this fashion may simply be an unreasonable thing to expect of anyone.
According to the Times, keeping themselves away from NFL players on social media and in person is a never-ending job for Saints cheerleaders, who are considered part-time, contract employees, and barely earn minimum wage.
Cheerleaders are told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave. There are nearly 2,000 players in the N.F.L., and many of them use pseudonyms on social media. Cheerleaders must find a way to block each one, while players have no limits on who can follow them.
These rules are offensive on multiple fronts. First of all, they put sole responsibility for behavior on the women, making it their duty to ensure they don’t in any way “tempt” football players. It also insinuates that their mere presence is an enticement of sorts, that they’re inviting sexual attention or even harassment merely by living their lives or posting pictures on social media.
It also paints NFL players as men who lack self-control, the ability to behave properly around women, or the capacity to follow simple rules.
The difference in rules and regulations between men and women is the crux of Davis’s EEOC gender discrimination complaint. In the suit, she argues that she qualifies as “NFL personnel,” which means the NFL’s personal conduct policy applies to her as well as her fellow cheerleaders.
That same personal conduct policy prohibits any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation. Davis asserts that because the rules governing both social media use, as well as who is allowed to be with whom in public, are restrictions that are only placed on cheerleaders. As the team cheerleaders are all women, Davis argues that this is a form of discrimination.
“If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders,” Sara Blackwell, Davis’s lawyer, told the Times. “The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”