Another NFL team is about to become embroiled in another cheerleading scandal.
Three former Houston Texans cheerleaders filed a class-action lawsuit against the team and Alto Gary, the team’s director of cheerleading, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The women are alleging that they were forced to work without pay and exposed to verbal harassment and physical assault.
While the suit alleges that all cheerleaders had to work hours for which they were not paid, some cheerleaders were allegedly verbally abused by Gary. According to the suit, cheerleaders were pressured to lose weight and change other aspects of their physical appearance to suit Gary. USA Today has these details from the lawsuit itself:
“Coach Alto walked up to a cheerleader and poked her face asking her if she had gained her ‘freshman 15’ saying she looked like she ‘ate a plate of salt,’ ” the lawsuit alleged.
Alto also allegedly told a Hispanic cheerleader she couldn’t have straight hair and if she didn’t curl it, Alto said she would “find another Latina girl to replace her.”
In addition to the alleged harassment by Gary, the lawsuit also accuses the team of ignoring complaints from cheerleaders who were physically assaulted by fans. Cheerleaders were required to stand in the crowd for a promotional campaign, and the team did nothing to insure their safety even after the cheerleaders reported improper behavior.
Main plaintiff wants to stand up for her friends
While three former Texans cheerleaders filed the suit, the only one named is Paige G., who goes by P.G.G. in the filing. She doesn’t want to reveal her full name because she’s afraid that family members in the business might be negatively affected.
Paige told the Post that while she, like all Texans cheerleaders, was not paid for all the hours she was required to work, she never personally experienced some of the behavior in the lawsuit. She was never pressured to lose weight or change her appearance and she was never assaulted by fans. However, she witnessed some of those acts, and had others reported to her by fellow cheerleaders. That’s why she felt she needed to become part of the lawsuit.
“I feel like it’s part of my duty as a human being to protect my friends,” Paige G. said. “I want to stand up people too afraid to stand up for themselves.”
While Paige is currently the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit, attorney Bruse Loyd told USA Today that he expects more will come forward.
It’s not the first allegations from cheerleaders
If the story of Paige and her fellow cheerleaders sounds familiar, it’s because it’s at least the fourth such story to come to light this year, either through exposé or lawsuit. But you wouldn’t be able to tell from the statement released by the Texans’ vice president of communication, Amy Palcic:
“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.”
That statement makes it seem like Paige only complained about ill-fitting uniforms and not verbal abuse from the cheerleader coach or being required to work without pay. But it’s on par with how a number of NFL teams treat their cheerleading squads: as disposable, non-human props.
If anyone is looking for proof, the lawsuits and complaints are starting to pile up at the NFL’s doorstep. In March, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In April, former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware filed a lawsuit against the Dolphins and the NFL, alleging discrimination due to her religion and gender. And in May, the New York Times published a stunning story about a 2013 trip the Washington Redskins cheerleaders took to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot. The Times alleged that cheerleaders were forced to be topless and serve as escorts for sponsors.
NFL teams may not take the complaints of the cheerleaders, or the cheerleaders themselves, very seriously, but not all of the cheerleaders are willing to be silent about how teams treat and mistreat them anymore.
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