Cheerleaders accuse Redskins of pimping them out
THE Washington Redskins organisation has been accused of "pimping out" cheerleaders to male sponsors and suite holders - requiring some to pose topless in front of them, while sending others out to nightclubs as their personal escorts.
"They weren't putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go," recalled one cheerleader, who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity.
"We weren't asked, we were told," she said. "Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing."
The cheerleaders had been in Costa Rica for a 2013 calendar photo shoot, which Stephanie Jojokian - long-time director and choreographer for the Redskins' cheer squad - had helped plan, the Times reports.
Several who were in attendance spoke to the newspaper and recounted what they were forced to put up with. The allegations were published online this week.
"It's just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don't want to go," said one cheerleader.
The Times spoke to five women who went on the trip, later corroborating their claims with others who had heard stories about what went on. They claimed that during the shoots, some of the 36 cheerleaders were required to pose topless, while others donned nothing but body paint - all while male sponsors and FedExField suite holders looked on.
"At one of my friend's shoots, we were basically standing around her like a human barricade because she was basically naked, so we could keep the guys from seeing her," a cheerleader remembered.
"I was getting so angry that the guys on the trip were skeezing around in the background."
Afterward, Jojokian allegedly gave nine of the women orders to accompany some of the sponsors and suite holders on dates.
"Get back to your room and get ready," the director told them, according to the Times' sources.
While the cheerleaders weren't forced to have sex with the men, they told the paper it felt like the Redskins organisation was "pimping us out."
They also claim to have been subjected to the same treatment during a mandatory "team-bonding" boat trip in 2012 - competing in twerking contests and taking shots of liquor from turkey basters.
"I didn't necessarily feel that we were bonding in a way that was helpful for the whole season," Jojokian admitted.
One cheerleader who took part said: "We were too scared to complain. We felt that our place on the team would be compromised if we did."
In response to the allegations, the team said: "The Redskins' cheerleader program is one of the NFL's premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organisation and our fans take great pride in."
A spokesman for the NFL said: "(The league) has no role in how the clubs which have cheerleaders utilise them ...our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace."
Jojokian told the Times she had not forced "anyone to go at all" during the Costa Rica trip - and that the cheerleaders chose to accompany the men.
"I'm the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders," she said.
"It's a big family. We respect each other and our craft. It's such a supportive environment for these ladies."
But several cheerleaders claimed this wasn't - and still isn't - the case.
"There was a lot of pressure by the director for us to be a part of that party atmosphere with sponsors because we knew she picked favourites that way," one cheerleader said of Jojokia.
In 2011, the director reportedly told women auditioning for the team that they shouldn't cover their "chest area" too much.
"We'll assume you are trying to hide something," she said, according to WJLA-TV in Washington.
But the real issue, according to cheerleaders, was Redskins management "seemed to condone all of this."
"You kept telling yourself that it was going to get better," explained one woman. "But it never got better. Finally, I had to admit to myself, this is not what I thought it would be."
Pressed further about the allegations, Jojokian said: "No sponsor is worth these children's safety and wellbeing at all. I have to really reflect and think because I try to teach these women, these cheerleaders, to speak up, not just to me but to anybody. They shouldn't deal with anyone who is hurtful or harmful."