N.F.L.’s Alternate ‘Cheerleaders’ Don’t Cheer or Dance
Several former ambassadors said the Redskins would “strongly encourage” the women to take classes at Capitol Movement, Jojokian’s nonprofit dance company, donate to the organization and attend its fund-raisers. They were steered to the hair salon and tanning salon that sponsored the team, so they could get the exact look of the cheerleaders, and often received a discount for those services.
One of the former ambassadors said: “It was like, if you want to make the cheerleading team, you’d better do all this stuff, and that included going to parties where there was a lot of drinking and there were definitely underage ambassadors. It might not be the best experience for the ladies, but you just shut up and do it because you want to be a cheerleader.”
Chambers, the former Texans cheerleader, was hired as an appearance team cheerleader, and the mention of “appearance-only cheerleader” was written into the team’s contract. She had no formal training as a dancer, but said she gave it a try as “a face of the team” because she was eager to interact with the community, especially with charities.
The Texans required their cheerleaders to work 50 promotional appearances each year, with the team earning tens of thousands of dollars for them, per cheerleader, while the women earned $7.25 an hour. Chambers hoped that many of those events would entail meeting children or visiting the military, and those appearances became “one of the few highlights” of her season.
Once inside the organization, Chambers said, she became dismayed by what she saw. She said the team’s coach, Alto Gary, verbally and emotionally abused the cheerleaders, and three of her teammates have confirmed that Gary treated the women poorly. It was unheard-of to say anything back to Gary, though, because “arguing or showing disrespect” to the coach was forbidden, according to their contract.
Last week, one of Chambers’s teammates filed a lawsuit over pay and abuse, and Chambers intends to join the suit as a plaintiff if the case is certified as a class-action lawsuit.
In a statement, the Texans said: “We are proud of the cheerleader program and have had hundreds of women participate and enjoy their experience while making a positive impact in the local community. We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”