The dark side of NFL cheerleading

The dark side of NFL cheerleading

SARASOTA – Beyond the beautiful hair, the tiny dresses and the daily energy of cheerleaders with mega-watt smiles performing on the sidelines of national football games, it’s not all pretty and pretty. A darker world exists where women have to hide from players that team managers describe as “predators” and leave restaurants in the middle of a meal if a player walks in.

NFL cheerleaders are prohibited from approaching players and risking injury if they respond to a player’s greeting or continue with anything other than “hello” or “big game” – rules officials claim to protect women. Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis, a Sarasota resident, was ordered to wear makeup at all times — even to the gym and college classes — maintained a lean body and was told to lose weight even on the bench. . A female trainer once grabbed Davis’ stomach and demanded that she “get rid of it.” Davis, 22, stood 5-foot-3 and weighed 120 pounds at the time.

“We made girls go through the proper steps to lose weight. We had one girl go to the hospital because she sweated and passed out,” said Davis, adding that she starved herself to maintain her weight. “Because she was in the hospital, she lost her job and was cut.”

Davis garnered national headlines after filing a gender discrimination complaint with the Employment Opportunity Commission late last month alleging that the Saints had different policies for its employees — one of ‘ male athletes and female cheerleaders, called Saintsations. She also requested a hearing with the commissioner of the NFL after she was suspended from the team this year for posting what team officials deemed an offensive photo on Instagram.

Davis, who is in her third year with the group, was fired in January for posting a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a black, lacy, one-piece swimsuit. Saints management told her she had a “dirty face” in the photo, which invited attention from players, Davis said. Her photo shoot covered more skin than the tights the team wore or the two-piece bikini she wore during the calendar shoot, Davis said.

Before she was suspended, rumors spread that Davis had attended a party with a group of players. Davis denied the allegations.

According to Davis, the Saints personnel handbook, Rules and Regulations, and internal team emails and text messages reviewed by the Herald-Tribune, cheerleaders are prohibited from posting images that resemble the mascot to social media accounts. which must be set private to maintain. distance players. Volunteers must also refrain from using their last names on social media to make it difficult for players to track them down. Cheerleaders must block players who contact them on social media and are not allowed to follow players on social media. They are not allowed to post pictures in cheerleading outfits, either. Laws that prohibit self-promotion hinder career opportunities for cheerleaders, Davis said. Players, however, do not have such rules.

The Saints were also prohibited from “associating” with national baseball players. The Saints also own the New Orleans Pelicans. In the past six months, at least three Pelicans cheerleaders have been fired for dating players, according to email exchanges between Saints management and the team.

“Please don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘fraternity’ means sleeping with a player,” Ashley Deaton, the Saints’ executive director, wrote the team in an email. “I have and will continue to stop the dances that engage each other at a more appropriate level than that.”

Hair cut, size and color must be approved by the director of the team. Fingernails should be polished and properly trimmed when cheerleaders are in uniform – only natural colors are allowed. Tattoos or body piercings cannot be seen while in uniform or at events and rehearsals. Cheerleaders must maintain a certain level of fitness to perform their duties, and the team will provide exercise and meal plans if needed, according to the Saints Rules and Regulations.

“They’ll say, ‘Your thighs look big in that dress,'” Davis said. “Even if you went out last night, they will say, ‘You went out last night; you have a beer belly.”

Alterations to costumes due to wear and tear or wear and tear are the responsibility of the cheerleaders, who earn just over $10 an hour. Cheerleaders are also responsible for purchasing their own cheerleading gear.

“One girl messed around in her costume at one point in practice and the director called her a slut,” Davis said.

Davis was often forced to sell calendars of Saints cheerleaders who gave out bikinis before games and would be benched if she didn’t meet the sales quota, she said. Davis was afraid of being thrown into the stands, where she was often stared at by male fans, she said.

“That was the worst thing in the world for me,” Davis said.

On several occasions, Davis’ ex-boyfriend would walk through the crowd to provide protection for the team that did not provide for her.

“You’re scared to death that someone’s going to catch you, because you’re walking around in your skirt and top,” Davis said.

The Saints rules seem to be no exception to the franchise. Seven NFL cheerleaders’ books reviewed by the New York Times include personal hygiene tips, such as shaving techniques and the correct use of tampons. In some cases, wearing pants in public is forbidden. Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders are subject to regular weights and are expected to “maintain a healthy body weight,” while Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders must stay within three pounds of their “ideal weight,” the Times said. .

Davis’ Sarasota attorney, Sara Blackwell, of the Blackwell Firm, said the Saints’ rules on cheerleaders violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they were not made athletes. Blackwell is calling on the league and the NFL to change the rules to ensure gender equality.

“When they say, ‘If a man tries to contact you, you will be fired, but the man can do whatever he wants,’ that’s clearly gender discrimination,” Blackwell said.

Davis didn’t know that players weren’t subject to the same rules when she joined the Saints, she said.

Davis’ movement, which she calls #LevelThePlayingField on social media, is gaining momentum. Cheerleaders in the NFL, the National Hockey League and women’s college teams have contacted Blackwell, telling her, too, that they are subject to rules that male players are not required to follow. Blackwell is considering teaming up with other attorneys to take on their case, she said.

The Saints denied Davis’ allegations, telling the Herald-Tribune in a statement, “The Saints will defend against these allegations in a timely manner, and the Saints are confident that its policies and workplace rules will be upheld.” in compliance with the law.”

The NFL has not made a public comment.

The NFL Players Association, however, blasted the rules in a statement to the Herald-Tribune on Thursday.

“Every employee deserves to be respected. There is absolutely no justification for paying these workers less than a fair wage and making them endure discrimination in the workplace,” said the union’s Executive Director DeMaurice Smith in an email. “These stories, including the discrimination of “The wages and hours that cheerleaders get, they’re announcing that changes must be made immediately. It’s just the right thing to do.”

During her time as a saint, Davis lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and commuted two hours each way to New Orleans. After it ends, Davis moves in with an uncle in Sarasota to escape her new reality: everything she’s worked for is gone.

Davis enjoys sunny Sarasota, she said. She rides around town on a sea-green foam bike, collects sea shells and earns a red belt in taekwondo at the local gym. She also teaches tumbling classes at the studio and hopes to open her own dance studio here.

“I found out that the beach is near my house, so I bought the bicycle. It was my first big purchase,” Davis said. “In the morning I wake up, ride my bike to the beach and collect shells like a tourist.”

Davis recently became a Florida resident and purchased an annual pass to Walt Disney World, receiving a Florida resident discount.

“I’ll always go to Disney World,” Davis said with a smile.

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