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Cheerleaders For Washington's NFL Team Say Sponsors Watched During Topless Photo Shoot


Washington's NFL team is embroiled in another scandal. This time, it does not involve the team's name, which it's NPR's policy not to mention. It involves the team's cheerleaders. In The New York Times, some of them anonymously describe a 2013 trip to Costa Rica. They say they had a topless photo shoot while a group of sponsors - all men - looked on and then an allegedly mandatory night out with some of those sponsors. There was no sex involved, but the women say they felt as if they were being, quote, "pimped out." We're joined now by New York Times reporter Juliet Macur. Welcome to the program.

JULIET MACUR: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: None of the cheerleaders were named in your story. How come?

MACUR: They signed a confidentiality agreement with the Redskins. So frankly, they were afraid that they would be sued.

CORNISH: Help us understand for background - what are the requirements of the job, and why was this trip or some of the other allegations outside of those requirements?

MACUR: Yeah. I think sort of the heart of the story is, what are the requirements to be a Washington Redskins cheerleader? In the contract, it says, obviously, you've got to cheer on game day. You meet sponsors. You have some outside appearances. In one of the contracts I saw, you have to do 20 outside appearances. They mention youth events, charity events, community events - those kind of things, which you would think would include military tours and visiting children's hospitals and things like that. But what was evidently unsaid was that these women would be mandated to go out with sponsors and entertain them.

CORNISH: Essentially, each team runs its cheering squad differently, right? And these are contract workers. So what are the kinds of allegations you're hearing as you've been reporting about this?

MACUR: Really all over the league we've been hearing women - on all different sorts of professional football teams and basketball teams - raise their hand and say, this is not right the way I'm being treated by my employer. There have been discrimination suits filed against the NFL and against specific teams - whether it's religious discrimination or discrimination in terms of, I have rules I have to follow as a cheerleader and the male players have to follow totally separate rules. So...

CORNISH: So in terms of how they dress or...

MACUR: Exactly. In terms of how they dress, who they can fraternize with - all these different rules that are not equal. So these women are finally standing up and saying, you know what? We're just not here as window dressing. We actually are employees, and you should treat us as such.

CORNISH: As you've reported on this and other questionable treatment of NFL cheerleaders, have you seen any signs of change either from the teams or from the cheerleaders themselves?

MACUR: I think this is going to be a very slow-moving movement of change. I think teams are trying to figure out what to do with this problem. I think that the lawsuits have maybe prompted some people to think twice. I mean, they've - now, the cheerleaders are - some of the cheerleaders are paid per hour rather than getting paid $75 a game or $50 a game. With the women I've talked to, they were so relieved that their story was finally out there, that people would listen - that they felt emboldened enough to say, you know what? I went through this experience in Costa Rica. I felt like I was an escort. And that - only now do they realize that they could say it and people would listen and really care.

CORNISH: Juliet Macur of The New York Times, thank you for coming in to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MACUR: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And since we spoke, Washington's team president, ‎Bruce Allen, responded to her piece with a statement. He says the organization is looking into the allegations and takes them seriously. It's her different firsthand accounts that contradict many of the details in the article. And once it is done looking into the matter - if it finds any employees acted inappropriately, then they'll face, quote, "significant repercussions."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DECEMBERISTS SONG, "ALL ARISE!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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