The New Orleans Saints provide an object lesson in how the patriarchy operates:
Like a lot of people in their 20s, Bailey Davis has an Instagram account. And as a cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints, Davis said, she followed team rules and made the page private so only people she approved could see what she posted.
But when she posted a photo of herself in a one-piece outfit in January, Saints officials accused her, despite her protests, of breaking rules that prohibit cheerleaders from appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie. For this indiscretion, and amid an inquiry about her attending a party with Saints players — another regulation that she denies violating — Davis was fired after what she said were three largely trouble-free seasons.
Now Davis has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws. The complaint accuses the Saints of having two sets of rules — one for the team’s cheerleaders, who are all women, and another for its players.
The complaint, which asserts that the rules in New Orleans reflect outdated views of women, follows a number of gender-related struggles in the N.F.L. over domestic violence and sexual harassment among players and league employees.
According to the Saints’ handbook for cheerleaders, as well as internal emails and text messages reviewed by The New York Times and interviews with Davis, 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 told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave. There are nearly 2,000 players in the N.F.L., and many of them use pseudonyms on social media. Cheerleaders must find a way to block each one, while players have no limits on who can follow them.
The team says its rules are designed to protect cheerleaders from players preying on them. But it puts the onus on the women to fend off the men.
“If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders,” said Sara Blackwell, Davis’s lawyer. “The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a pattern here:
They are far from the only team whose regulations for cheerleaders have come under question. 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.
Cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders settled a lawsuit over their wages and are now paid minimum wage and overtime. Members of squads from other teams have won settlements worth thousands of dollars after suing the Cincinnati Bengals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jets, over poor pay and requirements that they pay for their own makeup, uniforms and transportation.
That’s NFL ownership — they relish their ability to exploit people.