Some of their former teammates publicly called them liars and traitors and attention-seekers who disrespected every woman who had ever worn the Washington Redskins cheerleading uniform.
Yet, even as their allegations caused an outcry and prompted calls for change, the five former Redskins cheerleaders who spoke anonymously to The New York Times in May about what they called an environment of sexual harassment and intimidation on the job silently endured the insults.
Now, however, two of the women are coming forward to denounce attempts to discredit them and to speak on the record about their experiences and their frustrations at what they consider the slow pace of change to protect N.F.L. cheerleaders from degrading treatment.
Their names are Rebecca Cummings and Allison Cassidy, and they said they agreed to be named now to bolster the credibility of their allegations and to inspire other women to speak out about workplace harassment.
“Our main goal was for the Redskins to make a safe working environment for the cheerleaders,” Ms. Cummings said. “But even after we laid out all the shady situations we were forced to be in, the team failed to really fix things.”
The Redskins conducted a three-month investigation into their cheerleading program after The Times report described some of the most egregious behavior toward cheerleaders, which included accounts of uncomfortable events and interactions with well-heeled supporters of the team and a 2013 calendar shoot in Costa Rica. On that trip, the five women said, male sponsors invited to the photo sessions ogled scantily clad, and sometimes topless, cheerleaders and the squad’s director sent cheerleaders to entertain the men at a nightclub.
Although the resort trip did not involve any expectations of sex with the sponsors, and none of the cheerleaders have claimed that they were physically harmed, the women described feeling unsafe and harassed by team managers and the sponsors.
The Redskins’ internal inquiry determined that the core of the women’s story was true, but that it was “greatly exaggerated” and that no cheerleader was forced to do anything against her will, said Maury Lane, a team spokesman. Still, it led the Redskins to make changes this season intended to improve the safety of cheerleaders and to portray the team as more family-friendly.
Those changes include new uniforms, which show slightly less skin, for a group of cheerleaders who mingle with fans but do not perform on the sidelines. An elite group of supporters and suite owners this year were not invited to a team calendar shoot, in Mexico, and two female police officers accompanied the team to provide security. The cheerleaders also will no longer be assigned to private events.
Ms. Cummings, 31, and Ms. Cassidy, 29, said those changes, while welcome, fell short of their expectations of broader moves to eliminate the culture of harassment, such as the removal of the program’s leadership that intimidated cheerleaders into silence.
Although a Redskins executive who oversaw the cheerleading program resigned after the Times article was published, the team director, Stephanie Jojokian, who the women said had orchestrated the events where harassment occurred, is still with the team. The Redskins said she was unavailable for comment, but in the past she has denied putting any cheerleader in harm’s way.
Both women said they were surprised Ms. Jojokian has kept her job.
Across the N.F.L. several teams have made adjustments to their programs after the reports about the Redskins, and allegations of improprieties within other teams, came to light. A handful of lawsuits and legal complaints have been filed against at least four teams this year, claiming harassment, unfair wages and unequal treatment.
The New York Jets, which in 2016 paid to settle a class-action lawsuit with its cheerleaders over wages, added more modest uniforms that look like what high school cheerleaders might wear, including one-piece dresses that cover cheerleaders’ bellies and cleavage. Two teams, the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints, added male cheerleaders, but neither team made them available for interviews with The Times. The Saints also changed to uniforms with more coverage and discontinued their annual swimsuit calendar.
The league’s front office has sought to keep the turmoil at an arm’s distance, saying the cheerleader programs operate independent of the N.F.L., although several league representatives have met with Sara Davis, a lawyer for some of the cheerleaders, after she asked the league to make binding rules for the programs. No agreement has been reached.
“We’ve certainly worked with the clubs and encouraged them to review their programs,” said Brian McCarthy, a league spokesman.
Ms. Cummings, a nutrition consultant, and Ms. Cassidy, a defense contractor, began training as dancers when they were children and eventually joined the Redskins because they wanted the chance to dance professionally.
They reluctantly followed the code of silence that permeates the world of professional cheerleading where many women fear ostracism or dismissal if they publicly criticize the team.
After the Times article was published, one former Redskins cheerleader wrote on her own Facebook page, “You’re trying to be anonymous, but trust us, we know,” before calling on the women to turn in their team rings.
Both women said they have lost many friends since they spoke of their experiences. They said they were sickened as they watched current and former cheerleaders on social media label the five anonymous cheerleaders as has-beens just looking to regain the spotlight while sullying the profession.
“You would think I kicked someone’s dog or said their mom was ugly when all I did was tell the truth,” Ms. Cassidy said.
They said they mostly enjoyed being cheerleaders, the adrenaline rush of dancing for 80,000 or more fans at FedEx Field and visits to charities, including military hospitals where they met wounded soldiers.
But the other workplace experiences, when they felt unprotected and “pimped out,” in Ms. Cassidy’s words, have left them shaken.
Ms. Cummings, who keeps her Redskins’ cheerleader memorabilia on the top shelf of her kitchen pantry, next to a few cans of paint, r
and Ms. Cassidy said they did not previously speak out with their names because they had signed nondisclosure agreements when they were hired. They have decided to do so now because they believe highlighting the issue of the treatment of cheerleaders is worth the risk of legal action.
Still, they said they did not participate in the Redskins’ investigation of the program.
Both women received several voice messages from Will Rawson, who, they learned subsequently, is an assistant general counsel at the Redskins. In those messages, which were reviewed by The Times, Mr. Rawson said he was calling from the Redskins and wanted to ask some questions about their time as cheerleaders.
They did not call him back, they said, because they suspected that the Redskins were just trying to determine which cheerleaders might have breached the confidentiality agreement, though Mr. Lane, the spokesman, said the team was trying to talk to as many people as possible so it could conduct a thorough investigation and improve working conditions.
He said the women should not fear any legal ramifications in light of the confidentiality agreement.
Mr. Lane said the team interviewed 22 people involved with the program from 2011 to 2013, which overlapped with Ms. Cummings’s and Ms. Cassidy’s time on the team. Among those interviewed were Jojokian, the cheerleading director, and Jamilla Keene, the assistant director, and also a makeup artist, a hair stylist and photographers who worked the Costa Rica trip.
Though the Redskins said they had several employees who reached out to every cheerleader on the Costa Rica trip either by phone or by email — 36 attended that photo shoot — at least four cheerleaders from 2013 told The Times that they never received any queries from Mr. Rawson or anyone from the Redskins.
Even before the investigation was completed, a few cheerleaders made appearances in the news media to say the organization treated them well and defended the cheerleading program and Ms. Jojokian.
Still, Ms. Cummings and Ms. Cassidy said they were not surprised, but are disappointed, that more women have not come forward about their treatment with the team.
Ms. Jojokian was always quick to remind the team that every cheerleader was expendable, they said.
“They’re acting like a united front and we’re not because those women don’t speak for me and for many other teammates who are still afraid to speak out,” Ms. Cummings said.
Once, after Ms. Cassidy said she would not go on a recurring assignment that included attending a small gathering of men drinking alcohol and watching football at a private house, she said Ms. Jojokian reprimanded her for having “a negative attitude that’s dragging down the team.”
“It’s like the women there have been brainwashed to think it’s O.K. to be treated like garbage,” Ms. Cassidy said. “So many of them are afraid that pointing out injustices will lead to the program folding, or that will lead to the collapse of their social circle, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Ms. Cummings, the mother of two young sons, said she had long regretted not coming forward and was prepared for any backlash.
“Having kids, I realize that I want to look back and see that I was on the right side of it all, and stand up for myself and for other women,” she said. “I’m not O.K. with how I was treated, and I hope I can light a fire under teams to make real changes and inspire other women to speak up, too. This is more than just a story about Redskins cheerleading.”
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