- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A former Miami Dolphins cheerleader says she was physically and verbally abused by her coach once it became known that she was a virgin and chose to wait for marriage as part of her Christian faith.

Kristan Ann Ware said she was also told she couldn’t post about God to social media, even as the team’s football players were kneeling to pray during games.

Ms. Ware quit the team last year and has filed an arbitration claim against the Dolphins and the National Football League, claiming religious and gender discrimination.

While the #MeToo movement sweeps the country and NFL players use their platform to draw attention to racism, cheerleaders say there is still plenty of room for improvement within the NFL, where a boys’ club atmosphere pervades the billion-dollar industry.

“They took a knee for racism, but they aren’t taking anything for gender discrimination,” said Sara Blackwell, a lawyer representing Ms. Ware.

She is also representing Jacalyn Bailey Davis, who was fired from the New Orleans Saints for posting a photo on social media of herself in a black lace one-piece.

Ms. Blackwell said the teams and the NFL have rules restricting how the cheerleaders post on social media, but they don’t force the players to follow the same policies.

Former cheerleaders for the Houston Texans filed a lawsuit in May arguing that they were underpaid — and sometimes not paid at all — for the work they did.

Cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins complained in April that the team’s management allowed VIP guests to watch the women in behind-the-scenes moments as they posed topless for a calendar during a 2013 photo shoot in Costa Rica. Some of the cheerleaders told The New York Times that they were also pushed to attend a nightclub with the VIPs, all men.

Other cheerleaders on the trip said there was no pressure to go topless or to go to the nightclub. The team said cheerleaders are “contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.”

But the slew of actions suggests pressure within the NFL for higher awareness and changes.

Caitlin Brown, a government professor at the College of William & Mary, said the complaints signal that the #MeToo movement goes beyond sexual harassment to reach realms of employment discrimination. She said a real win for the cheerleaders would be if the NFL changes its employment policies.

“The better fact is that young women are going to see actual changes where it’s not just seeing women as eye candy — or as being subservient in some ways for the game — to actually being integral parts of it and equals,” she said.

Ms. Blackwell has been holding discussions with a representative from the NFL, and she said she is hopeful for changes to let cheerleaders be treated as athletes rather than field decorations.

“It just becomes a stereotype of, ‘We are just a pretty face,’” she said.

Regina Bailey, a doctor and lawyer who was a Redskins cheerleader in 1999, said she never experienced what the others are reporting but she thinks they have valid claims.

At the time Ms. Bailey cheered, she said, it was an unpaid gig but “a wonderful experience.”

She said the cheerleaders deserve to be treated fairly and appear to have valid claims.

“In addition to the many hours of practice, performing at games, they also travel the world to visit and entertain our military, and contribute to a significant amount of community service projects in their communities,” said Ms. Bailey, who now lives in Houston. “There is so much more to being an NFL cheerleader than what is seen on the sidelines of the game.”

The NFL did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuits or its policies.

The Houston Texans told The Washington Times that the cheerleaders’ claims about pay are being reviewed.

“If there are things we learn from this process that we feel will make our cheer program even better, we will make the necessary adjustments. We do not tolerate mistreatment of our cheer team or our employees at any time,” said Amy Palcic, vice president of communications.

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