Ex-Saints cheerleader exposes deep issues within NFL


It’s past time for NFL teams to disband their official cheerleading squads. The practice is not only archaic and misogynistic but the return on investment is a poor one as well.

Another dispute between an NFL franchise, this time the New Orleans Saints, and a former cheerleader has arisen, making it a curious thing why all of the league’s 32 teams haven’t followed the lead of a handful of franchises and disbanded the squads altogether. There’s simply very little upside to maintaining them.

According to Ken Belson of the New York Times, former Saintsations member Bailey Davis has lodged a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She alleges in her filing that she was discriminated against because of her gender. Her complaint alleges that the Saints maintained different codes of conduct for men and women.

Davis alleges that she was fired from her position as a Saints cheerleader after she posted a photo to her private Instagram account in January. In the photo, she was wearing a one-piece garment. Rules for the team’s cheerleaders ban photos on social media accounts in which the cheerleaders appear nude, in lingerie, or the vague term of “semi-nude.”

Belson’s look into the Saints’ handbook for cheerleaders revealed even more interesting facts about the situation. Cheerleaders are forbidden to fraternize with players, even online, and can’t have a social media presence in which they identify themselves as a Saints cheerleader.

Perhaps what’s more ridiculous is that the Saints require cheerleaders to adapt to players’ decisions. For example, if a cheerleader is in a restaurant prior to a player arriving, it is the cheerleader who must interrupt her meal and immediately leave the premises, despite the fact she was there first.

Davis makes some sound arguments as far as her allegations of discrimination go. Players, who historically and presently are all male, have no fear of losing their jobs over posting shirtless (semi-nude) photos of themselves on their public social media channels in which they are encouraged to identify themselves as Saints employees. There are no penalties for players attempting to fraternize with cheerleaders in person or online.

A response by the Saints indicated these policies were put in place for cheerleaders to “protect cheerleaders from players preying upon them.” That’s problematic. It assumes that women who act as Saints cheerleaders are clever enough to be able to figure out when a player might be contacting them on social media using a pseudonym, but not savvy enough to ward off any unwanted advances by players on their own.

How the EEOC dispute and any potential civil litigation will end remains to be seen, but teams like the Saints who are hanging on to this discriminatory and outdated institution should resolve the situation by ending the practice altogether. If these franchises can’t be convinced of the wisdom of doing so for moral reasons, their business interests provide further motivation.

Cheerleaders may provide some small economic value in terms of making appearances at off-field events and the like, but it’s fair to question whether or not audiences at those events would attend even if cheerleaders were not present. For the NFL, having women as serious fans of the league, as opposed to less-than-human decorations on the field, is much more profitable. It’s difficult to try to appeal to women as frequent consumers of the league’s product while simultaneously maintaining misogynistic practices.

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Even if it’s for no other reason than the bottom line, it’s time for all of the NFL’s teams to make their cheerleading squads a thing of the past.