The professional football team based out of Washington, D.C. has been embroiled in controversy for many years. Previously known as the Washington Redskins, the team was scrutinized for having what has been deemed a ‘racially insensitive’ mascot, they have recently rebranded and are now simply known as the Washington Football Team. On top of this change, they have also made another dramatic step aimed at reducing any kind of prejudice or bias, next season, their traditionally all-female cheerleader squad will be replaced with a coed dance squad.
It appears, however, that the Washington Football Team failed to make their now-former cheerleaders aware of the changes before going public. Many of them took to social media to make their voices heard. A compilation of their thoughts can be found at Washington D.C. Sports Radio’s website, but the overwhelming consensus is that the first ladies of football feel disrespected, angry, and like an already male-dominated arena is now going to have even more men.
The Football Team’s new front office hire responsible for the change, Petra Pope, doesn’t seem to think there was an issue with how things were handled. She mentioned that all of the cheerleaders’ contracts had expired and so the team was free to move on how they saw fit. Even if the path they wanted to take was unexpected and involved replacing the cheerleaders with a more diverse and welcoming group. Petra was quoted saying that "we want to be more inclusive, so we are going to invite a coed entity" to audition for the spots and the change will make it so we are now “able to do more things with the strength of a male… the inclusivity, strength, and interest of choreography has changed."
Pope comes from a rich history of NBA entertainment. She spent years managing the Laker Girls in Los Angeles, as well as over a decade with the New York Knicks and is also responsible for the game day experience changes as the Nets moved to Brooklyn. Her new task is to replace the 59-year tradition of the Washington Football Team cheerleaders with the new coed cheer force.
Pope insisted that the decision to make the change has nothing to do with the increased amount of sexual harassment allegations coming from the cheer squad. A Washington Post story revealed last year that around 40 women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment against the team in some form or another, including some former cheerleaders. While some of those allegations discussed sexist rules, others went as far as calling out particular staff members for taking videos of nude cheerleaders at inopportune moments during calendar photo shoots or other accusations of that nature.
As for a calendar involving the new coed squad? That is not currently in the cards. “We’re going to move forward to a more modern entity, and that more than likely will not be a part of it. Right now we’re thinking modern" and hope to leave behind the sexist overtones that have long surrounded the sport of cheer leading.