On Tuesday, the New York Times revealed that Washington Redskins cheerleaders would have been victims of sexual exploitation on a trip to Costa Rica in 2013. According to the Times, the events would have happened during a calendar photo shoot in a hotel in Guanacaste.
According to the New York newspaper, the photo shoot took place at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some cheerleaders said that, during the photo sessions, they were required to be topless, and others wore nothing but body paint, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity.
Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators. “A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.”
“When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification,” opens the New York Times article.
The article says that one evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.
“So get back to your room and get ready,” the director told them. Several of them began to cry. “They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders said. “We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
Their participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the arrangement amounted to “pimping us out.” What bothered them was their team director’s demand that they go as sex symbols to please male sponsors, which they did not believe should be a part of their job.
The Redskins’ weeklong trip to Costa Rica in 2013 — for which the cheerleaders were paid nothing beyond transportation costs, meals and lodging, the team said — provides a vivid illustration of how N.F.L. teams have used cheerleaders for far more than sideline dancers during games
The NYTimes says the account of the Redskins’ calendar shoot at the Occidental Grand Papagayo is based on interviews with five cheerleaders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were required to sign confidentiality agreements when they joined the team, who were involved, and many details were corroborated with others who heard descriptions of the trip at the time.
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go,” one cheerleader who was there said.
Stephanie Jojokian, the longtime director, and choreographer for the Redskins’ cheerleaders, disputed much of the women’s description of the Costa Rica trip. She vehemently denied to the NYTimes that the night at the club was mandatory and said that the cheerleaders who went were not chosen by sponsors.
“I was not forcing anyone to go at all,” Ms. Jojokian said. “I’m the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders. It’s a big family. We respect each other and our craft. It’s such a supportive environment for these ladies.”
For the Costa Rica trip, the cheerleaders had a dress code: white tops, khaki bottoms and heels. Straw hats were permitted, while flats were definitely not.
During the photo shoots, they were anxiously aware when the sponsors and other guests were watching.
“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,” one of the cheerleaders said. “I was getting so angry that the guys on the trip were skeezing around in the background.”
Remember the passports? At the end of the nightclub outing, at about 2 or 3 a.m., the article explains that on returning to the waiting van, the women were stopped by several police offices who asked for their passports.They did not have them because the team had taken possession of them upon arrival.
“I guess they thought you were prostitutes,” a man affiliated with the cheerleading squad told them after they were allowed to leave.
They returned to the resort, but several women on the team decided not to return to the squad the next season. What happened in Costa Rica, they said, made them feel worthless and unprotected.
Jojokian told the NYTimes she recalled the cheerleaders saying they enjoyed the night at the club. When she asked the women how the party was the next morning, “They were like, that was fun,” she said. “I’m like, glad you had a good time — don’t get the other girls jealous that they couldn’t get to go.”
She added: “No sponsor is worth these children’s safety and well-being at all.