NFL cheerleaders are speaking out against workplace discrimination and gender bias, bringing to light a long-standing issue that has been kept in the dark due to contractual restrictions.
The case that's breaking the silence is based on complaints from New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis. She was recently fired from her job for posting a "distasteful" Instagram photo and allegedly fraternizing with team players. Davis consulted with a lawyer, who contends that the policies which led to her firing are a clear example of gender discrimination.
The trouble started when rumors began to circulate about Davis attending a party where players from the NFL team were in attendance. Davis denies having attended the party in question, but the rumors were enough to get her into hot water.
According to policy, the cheerleaders, also known as Saintsations, are strictly prohibited from fraternizing with players, coaches, or members of management. Although this may seem like a reasonable requirement, some argue that it goes too far and unfairly places the responsibility for avoiding contact on the all-female cheerleading squad.
The policy further states that socializing in "close proximity" to players will lead to "immediate termination." According to Davis' complaint, if a player from the team walks into a restaurant or bar, the cheerleaders would be required to get up and leave or could risk being fired.
Social Media Policies
Contract rules also place serious restrictions on the Saintsations' social media use. The employee handbook strictly prohibits "nude, semi-nude, or lingerie" photos on social media. Davis had posted an Instagram photo of herself in a one-piece lingerie-type outfit. Her attorney argues that it doesn't matter whether what she was wearing is considered lingerie. Instead, she argues that the rule itself is discriminatory in nature.
While the cheerleading squad is subject to strict social media rules, such as having to keep their accounts completely private and only post photos that are deemed to be "tasteful," NFL football players are allowed to have public profiles and can show off their physique by posting photos of themselves in their underwear, if they choose.
Avoiding "Predatory" Players
Saints management has taken social media restrictions one step further by advising Saintstations dancers to remove their last names from their Instagram profiles so players are unable to find and follow them.
The cheerleaders are responsible for blocking any players who attempt to follow their profiles or contact them through social media. They are not allowed to follow individual players or coaches and cannot like or comment on anything posted on social media about specific players.
Saintstations' coach Ashley Deaton sent out an email advising the squad that engaging with players or coaches via social media "will likely give them the impression that you are available to their advances." Davis argues that it should not be the responsibility of the cheerleading squad to ensure that the players and coaches behave appropriately.
What Happens Next?
Davis and her lawyer have filed a discrimination complaint against the New Orleans Saints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An attorney for the team denies that the practices are discriminatory and contends that they are an equal opportunity employer. The next step is to request a hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Since the charge has been filed, women from other teams are coming forward with their stories, bringing more attention to gender bias in professional sports. The non-disclosure and arbitration agreements included in most contracts have helped to keep the issue under wraps, but Davis' attorney hopes to turn that around. A class action suit is not an option, but more individual complaints will likely be filed until the issues are properly addressed.