On May 3 of this year, the NY Times featured a page 1 story on the Washington Redskins’ cheerleaders describing an “uneasy trip to Costa Rica in 2013.” The Redskins had taken their cheerleading squad to an adults-only resort in Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot. According to the Times report, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins’ officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.
But then things quickly became even more concerning for several of the cheerleaders when they were required to be topless during some of the photo shoots, even though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. These photo sessions were even more concerning to the cheerleaders when they learned that, according to the Times, “a contingent of team sponsors and suite holders – all men – were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.”
Also, as reported by the Times, several cheerleaders became even more concerned when their squad’s director told a select group of the cheerleaders after a long day of posing for photos and dance practices, that they had a special assignment for them. This group was to accompany some of the male sponsors to a nightclub for the evening. One of the cheerleaders reportedly responded, “they weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go.”
In a statement, the Redskins’ team said: “The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskins’ cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.” A spokesman for the NFL said the league office, ” has no role in how the clubs which have cheerleaders utilize them.”
Brian McCarthy of the NFL said, apparently in response to other reports of complaints filed by cheerleaders of other teams that, “the NFL and all NFL member clubs support fair employment practices. Everyone who works in the NFL, including cheerleaders, has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws. Our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace.”
When one of the NBA teams, the Dallas Mavericks, was confronted recently with an explosive story in Sports Illustrated about a corrosive culture in the Mavs’ front office, team owner Mark Cuban promptly announced their search to fill a new position, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. Around the same time, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the league was establishing a confidential hotline for league employees and employees of all of its 30 teams to report improper behavior in the workplace. Silver made it clear that, “the NBA’s hotline is available to all league and team employees to report any concerns in the workplace, including but not limited to sexual harassment, discrimination, or other misconduct.”
Whether the NBA hotline evolves into a full-fledged comprehensive, effective, compliance/ethics program for the league office and its teams is yet to be determined. But the quick response by Commissioner Silver sets a good example for the NFL, and perhaps even the other professional sports leagues which are grappling with how to respond to wrongdoing within their member clubs.