This blog post is written as a response to the article, No Longer Anonymous, Former N.F.L. Cheerleaders Demand More to Protect Women.
This past week as I was scrolling through sports news, one story automatically grabbed my attention.
Any time I see or hear the word “cheerleader,” my attention is automatically caught.
This is because I was a cheerleader for 14 years and it is one of my biggest passions. (enjoy some photos of me from my senior year of high school)
When I was a cheerleader, I never felt that I was being sexualized and I never felt unsafe while in my uniform or in my role as a cheerleader in general.
But, for a few former Washington Redskins cheerleaders, that’s not the case.
Rebecca Cummings is a 31-year-old former Redskins cheerleader who claims she worked in an environment of sexual harassment and intimidation on the job while a part of the Redskins organization.
She and five other women came forward anonymously to The New York Times in May to tell about their experiences and call for changes to be made in the program.
But now, Cummings and another teammate, Allison Cassidy, have identified themselves in hopes that more women will feel comfortable enough to speak out against workplace harassment.
Since these allegations were made, an investigation was launched to decide the truth of what has been accused.
Though they found that the core of the stories told were true, team spokesman Maury Lane said they were “greatly exaggerated.”
Regardless, the Redskins have made changes to their cheerleading program to bring more protection.
These changes include new uniforms that show less skin for a group of cheerleaders who talk to fans but do not perform on the sidelines, no invitations to the calendar photo shoot in Mexico, two female officers for security, and no longer assigning cheerleaders to private events.
The question is — did the Washington Redskins handle this problem the correct way (from a PR standpoint)?
Many people have different views on this.
To the women who spoke up about this issue, they feel like there hasn’t been enough done. According to the article, they would have liked to see those in leadership of the cheer program removed.
From my own PR standpoint, I don’t believe it is necessary to remove the leadership — at the moment.
If reports continue to show from past and present cheerleaders that the leadership creates an environment of intimidation into uncomfortable situations, that is a route that should be explored.
But what I really would have liked to see from the Redskin cheerleaders’ leadership is an apology, as opposed to a statement that their stories are exaggerated.
No matter what claims were placed against them, the women are sharing what happened from their point of view and their emotions.
A simple, “we are so sorry for anything that may have been said to make these women feel they were being forced into something they were uncomfortable with,” would have been enough.
A statement along those lines would have created a more positive situation, instead of an “us” vs. “them” mentality.
I don’t believe that this situation was handled as delicately as it should’ve been by the Redskins cheerleading coaches.
In the future, especially with issues pertaining to sexual harassment and the treatment of women, the Washington Redskins need to take the time and effort to fully understand where the claims are coming from before disregarding the person making them.