NFL players don’t exactly have a reputation for being champions of women’s rights. However, a new controversy involving a New Orleans Saints cheerleader suggests that the league has some backward policies and, one might argue, represent institutionalized sexism in professional sports.
Cheerleader Bailey Davis was recently fired from her three-year career with the Saints, after posting a photo of herself clad in a one-piece outfit to her private Instagram in January. Team officials said Davis was in violation of the rules that “prohibit cheerleaders from appearing nude, semi nude or in lingerie,” as per the New York Times. One might venture to argue that official cheerleading uniforms aren’t exactly saintly (see what I did there), but I digress. For the photo and allegedly attending a party where Saints players were present (another no-no), she was fired.
As it turns out, the Saints handbook is filled with all kinds of double standards for cheerleaders and players (re: women and men). For example, cheerleaders aren’t allowed to speak to any players at length or eat at the same restaurant as players. In regards to the later, if a cheerleader arrives at a restaurant to find a player already there, she’s the one who has to leave. Cheerleaders are also to avoid contact with players both IRL and online, which means blocking them on social media, which isn’t always an easy feat since many of 2,000 players in the NFL go by pseudonyms on the internet. As one might suspect, the players can follow whomever they damn well please on social media. All this nonsense is part and parcel of an anti-fraternization policy that the Saints says is designed to protect cheerleaders from the advances of players. Sounds like your run-of-the-mill blame-the-victim paradigm to me. How about telling your players to keep it in their pants and their head in the game?
Don't get it twisted, the Saints aren't the only team in trouble peddling this sexist trash. As the New York Times noted, the Buffalo Bills are in hot water for telling its cheerleaders to do jumping jacks during tryouts to see how toned their bodies were. Bills cheerleaders were also required to go to a golf tournament hosted for sponsors, where deep-pocketed attendees paid cash to watch them do backflips in bikinis. Bills officials also kept tabs on their cheerleaders Facebook pages unbeknownst to them. There's also a grip of other teams, including the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Jets, who've been caught at the wrong end of a lawsuit with its cheerleaders for poor pay and refusal to cover essential expenses, like makeup and uniforms.
Anyway, Davis has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the team of having different rules for men and women. As Davis’s attorney, Sara Blackwell, notes, “If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleader.” Davis also contends, “The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.” Should I say it louder for the people in the back?