News and Commentary

First Cheerleading Squad In NFL Replaced By Men/Women Dance Team
Washington Redskins cheerleaders run on to the field prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at FedExField on September 23, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Will Newton/Getty Images

The longest-running group of cheerleaders for an NFL team, founded in 1962, is no more.

The Washington Football Team, formerly known as the Redskins, is replacing their cheerleading squad with a coed dance ensemble. The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots already have men on their cheerleading squads.

On Wednesday, former Laker Girl manager Petra Pope was hired as an adviser for the dance team. She told The Associated Press, “I’ve been asked to create a more modern entertainment team that is inclusive and diverse. We just want to follow that mode of being more modern and a more modern franchise. Change is difficult, but I do feel that the fans will love what we bring to the table.”

“My focus is really just reinventing this team,” she added. “My goal is to create this team, reinvent this team and make it more modern.”

The Washington cheerleaders were known as the “First Ladies of Football.” The squad had been the subject of reports in prior years involving team employees making inappropriate videos from calendar photo shoots.

Team president Jason Wright said the change in the cheerleading status was not a result of allegations against the team of sexual harassment.

“The off-season gives us the opportunity to rethink the status quo,” he said. “The last year, we’ve created an enhanced online fan experience, and we’ve seen how effective our new media properties and modern approaches have been in engaging fans even when they can’t be at the games. The time is right to reimagine our entire gameday experience to reinvent it in a way that reflects our modern identity and aligns with what today’s fan seeks. Coach [Ron] Rivera has done an incredible job on the field. We will elevate our off-the-field product to match.”

Last summer, two different Washington Post reports spoke of at least 15 women claiming sexual harassment or other hostile workplace incidents regarding club employees, nearly all of whom departed before or immediately after the accusations were revealed.

Among the charges were accusations that director of pro personnel Alex Santos had made inappropriate remarks to six former employees and two reporters; team radio play-by-play announcer Larry Michael making sexually disparaging remarks and allegedly ordering employees to edit a video of behind-the-scenes outtakes from a 2008 calendar shoot; assistant director of pro personnel Richard Mann II telling a female colleague that he discussed with other employees whether she had undergone plastic surgery on her breasts; and president of business operations Dennis Greene requesting female sales staffers to wear revealing outfits and flirt with season ticket holders and suite holders, according to the Daily Mail.

In 2018, The New York Times reported that some Washington Redskins cheerleaders taken to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot were required to go topless, and had no idea that male sponsors and FedExField suite holders were granted access to watch them pose nude from the waist up.

The Times wrote that the cheerleaders first thought something might be awry when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, which left them without official identification. Some of the cheerleaders were topless; others wore nothing but body paint, according to the Times. None of the pictures were used in the calendar.

The Times reported that one night, the squad’s director informed nine of the 36 cheerleaders that they were to serve as personal escorts for some of the male sponsors at a nightclub. The director allegedly said, “So get back to your room and get ready.” Some cheerleaders started to cry. One recalled, “They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go. We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”

The cheerleaders said they were not asked to have sex with the sponsors, but they felt as if the situation was “pimping us out.” The cheerleaders were not paid for the trip, although transportation costs, meals and lodging were covered.