As the NFL kicks off Sundays with back to back games and football fans come together to celebrate victories, the darkness that lies underneath the celebrations goes unattended. Halftime shows are for time fillers and entertainment, but when NFL cheerleaders step off the field they are faced with the trauma of sexual assault.
NFL cheerleaders usually begin as dancers, trained from youth and skilled enough to join the big leagues. The heart of it is dance. The crowds, applause, and cute uniforms were just a bonus. However, for many the art of movement and bond of sisterhood got blurred as the company they danced for demanded more of them. Physically, more.
The New York Times reported a few mandated rules in some NFL handbooks for dancers including tips for personal hygiene, shaving and the use of tampons. They are also dictated on how they present themselves and their sexuality. The traditional image of the sexualized woman, an object for the pure entertainment of men is what they are forced to embody.
Unfortunately, a result of women embracing their sexuality is hyper-aggressive reception by men. NFL cheerleaders said they encountered many instances of sexual assault from unruly crowds of drunk fans, sometimes without security with them. Even when shouted obscenities, they must retain politeness.
One cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys said one fan shouted at her, “I hope you get raped!” Verbal and physical violence are expected to come with the job but also for the women to accept it. Internally, the same issues occur. In 2004, team owner Daniel Snyder asked cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby to come back to his hotel room to “get to know her better.” Photoshoot outtakes including revealing shots of cheerleader’s bodies were pegged for viewing during executive meetings. Cheerleaders are also trained to handle situations themselves and avoid men who sexually harass them. To protect the players, cheerleaders are also unable to be in the same vicinity as any football player. They are never encouraged to speak out or file claims. In some ways, they are discouraged to because their jobs could be at stake.
Victim blaming is handwritten into their code of conduct. Cheerleaders are expected to cover up and respectfully respond to acts of sexual force. The conversation never becomes about the hypermasculine environment they are required to engage in. The perpetrators only release bland statements in attempt to protect the name of the NFL. No apologies are ever issues, just proclamations of condemnation.
Sadly, it works. Women’s stories go untold or brushed under the rug and still get up for events and practice every day. As young as 20 years old, with a dream to dance, NFL cheerleaders bare the brunt of one of America’s worst manifestations of patriarchy.
Featured Image by John Martinez Pavliga by Flickr