Female football fans must tackle NFL's misogyny

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The NFL was founded in 1920 and its views and treatment of women have progressed little since then. It's long past time for female football fans, and the men who care about them, to stand up and demand change.

That latest in a long line of shocking cases of misogyny displayed by the powerful and highly lucrative football dynasty is that of the treatment of the New Orleans Saints cheerleading squad detailed in a recent New York Times story.

There is no doubt parading around a group of scantily clad women on the field is incredibly sexist in itself. Why is it that the NCAA features highly athletic co-ed cheer squads but pro football's sideline cheerleaders are made to be the equivalent of servers at Hooters?

But if we are going to have NFL cheerleaders at all, we must demand that they be treated with respect. There is no more blatant indication of how the NFL feels about women than how it treats its cheerleaders.

Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis told the New York Times that she was fired for her behaviour on social media. She accuses the team of having one set of rules for its female cheerleaders and another for its male players. She's taken her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws.

According to the article, the Saints "have an anti-fraternization policy that requires cheerleaders to avoid contact with players, in person or online, even though players are not penalized for pursuing such engagement with cheerleaders. The cheerleaders must block players from following them on social media and cannot post photos of themselves in Saints gear, denying them the chance to market themselves. The players are not required to do any of these things."


Cheerleaders are prohibited from talking to players in any detail. They must leave a restaurant if a player is there or comes in. It's her responsibility to block any player on social media, even if he uses a pseudonym.

All the onus of the anti-fraternization policy falls on the women, none on the men.
Yet the team claims that it's meant to keep the cheerleaders from being preyed upon by players.

Puh-lease. Is this really much different at its heart than forcing women to cover up in public in order not to be a temptation to men? And what does that say about how the players behave towards beautiful women in their midst?

Says Davis's lawyer, Sara Blackwell: “If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders. The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”


The Saints are far from the only troublesome team. According to the New York Times:

"The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders, before the squad disbanded in the face of a wage lawsuit, said they were told to do jumping jacks in tryouts to see if their flesh jiggled, and had to attend a golf tournament for sponsors where high rollers paid cash to watch bikini-clad cheerleaders do back flips. Their Facebook pages were monitored by team officials without their knowledge."

And these cheerleaders are paid a pittance in return for the chance to be treated like property.

The Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets have all settled with their cheerleaders over dismal, less than minimum wage pay. The NFL has so far escaped any culpability by successfully arguing in court that the cheerleaders are team employees, rather than employees of the league.

The most disturbing aspect of all is that many players accused and convicted of domestic violence, sexual assault and violence against women have been welcomed to existing or new teams, with organizations deciding they care more about on-field performance than the off-the-field safety and justice for women.

Yes, NFL teams are entertainment businesses, but they need to be more than that and that's why it's up to female fans of the NFL to step up.

The league seems to repeatedly forget that women make up as much as 45 per cent of its fan base. So it's our job to remind them. Often and loudly.

Viewership among women is growing faster than among men. Women have tremendous power here and it's long past due to let the NFL know that wearing pink for breast cancer, putting players in anti-domestic violence PSAs and sticking some jerseys for women in the fan stores aren't going to cut it.

#MeToo and Time's Up has shown the power of the female collective in politics, Hollywood, the media and many board rooms across North America. It's time to hit the field.

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