Two former National Football League cheerleaders who have filed discrimination complaints against the league have offered to settle their claims. They don’t want a lot of money or even an admission of guilt. All they are asking for is the chance to sit down for a four-hour meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. It’s hard to see how the league could turn down the offer - unless, of course, it’s not really serious when it says its commitment to a fair and respectful work environment includes the women who cheer on the sidelines.
A settlement proposal crafted by the lawyer representing former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis and former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ware offers to settle all their claims for just $1 each if Goodell agrees to meet them in “good faith.” The purpose of the meeting, which would include two other yet-to-be selected cheerleaders, would be to negotiate leaguewide reforms of the outdated rules and regulations affecting cheerleaders. Implementation of change, though, would not be a condition. “I understand that they could meet with us, patronize us and do nothing in the end,” the women’s attorney, Sara Blackwell,told the New York Times. “But it’s a risk we’re willing to take to try to have real change.”
Complaints filed by Davis, with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Ware, with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, contend that the NFL maintains different standards for its male employees and its female ones. The cases - notably that of Davis, who was fired after posting a photograph of herself in a lace bodysuit on her private Instagram account - have brought new attention to the treatment of cheerleaders. A series of reports by the Times has detailed the indignities they face, including extremely low pay, long hours and sexual harassment - sometimes physical - from fans.
Most appalling was the account of some cheerleaders for the Washington football team of a 2013 trip to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot. They said they were posed topless or in body paint in front of an all-male audience of team sponsors and stadium suite holders. Some said they were later required to accompany sponsors to a nightclub. The director of the cheerleading squad disputed much of the account, and a statement from the team touted the program as “one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service.”
Whether sideline cheerleading featuring attractive women in provocative attire is integral to the enjoyment of football or a sexist relic of the past is a matter for debate. Six NFL teams do not have cheerleading squads, some for philosophical reasons and one to avoid the impact of a class-action lawsuit over pay. What shouldn’t be an issue is that the women who choose to do this work shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens or - as Washington cheerleaders alleged to the Times - sexually exploited. That Davis and Ware are willing to forgo any claim to monetary awards to tell their stories in the hope of bringing about change should convince Goodell that, at the very least, he needs to listen.