Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis has filed a discrimination complaint against the team with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The complaint asserts that there are two sets of unequal rules: One for the cheerleaders, and one for the football players. Davis lost her job after violating one of the guidelines set for her as a cheerleader by appearing on her then-private Instagram account in a semi-nude photo. However, Davis claims that she is not asking for or expecting her job back, maintaining that she wishes to settle for $1 and a four-hour “good faith” meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The goal behind the meeting is to create a new set of rules and regulations for every NFL team that features cheerleaders.
Davis’ case is shining a light on the intense policies she had to abide by during her time as a Saints cheerleader. Gender equality, especially in the workforce, has progressed immensely since the beginning of the 20th century, with non-discrimination laws in place and groups like the EEOC to advocate and oversee that the workplace remains free of any kind of discrimination. It’s clear, however, that the rules set for NFL cheerleaders aren’t up to par; a strict anti-fraternization policy is set for cheerleaders, while players don’t face binding rules or consequences to prevent them from approaching their team’s cheerleaders.
Some of the extra rules Saints cheerleaders have to follow include mandatorily blocking the football players on all forms of social media, and conversation going beyond “hello” or “good game” is considered fraternization. Additionally, Davis also mentioned in a podcast interview that the cheerleaders weren’t even allowed to like a picture that had a Saints football player in it, even if someone aside from the football players posted said picture.
Cheerleaders also had to be private on social media to further ward off any football players who might not be blocked (due to the inability of the cheerleader to find and block their profile because of pseudonyms people tend to use for their social media usernames) from finding them online. Davis claimed that the reasoning behind these rules is to protect the cheerleaders from being preyed on by the football players, saying she signed a contract which said that “they (football players) are predators.” Not only does this incorrectly imply that all the Saints football players are inevitably going to try and approach the cheerleaders in an uncomfortable manner, but these anti-fraternization policies wrongfully hold cheerleaders accountable for making sure they don’t attract the attention of football players, a tactic often seen in victim blaming when a woman is shamed for a man preying on her.
In addition to being told to put all the walls up to ensure safety from “predatory” football players, the cheerleaders are stripped of the publicity and opportunities that could await them in their next step as professional cheerleaders or dancers. Meanwhile, the players have, again, no such rules applied to their social media presence, allowing them to market themselves online publicly; the cheerleaders, however, aren’t granted such opportunities, especially in the digital age, where social media marketing is a powerful tool that can generate a source of income.
The threat of immediate termination also stands with fraternization offline. Cheerleaders and players cannot be seen in the same area in public: If a cheerleader goes to a restaurant that the player is already dining in, the cheerleader must leave, and if a cheerleader is eating at a restaurant and a player walks in, the cheerleader is responsible for leaving as soon as possible. Given these constricting rules, it could make one wonder why anyone would put up with such a set of shameful policies. Kristan Ware, a former Dolphins cheerleader who also felt discriminated against during her time with the NFL, claims that there was a sense of manipulation that prevented cheerleaders from speaking out against the policy. This double standard enforces a toxic cycle of silence about something worth being debated.
Davis’ settlement of $1 has become a symbol against the typical slew of opposition when such complaints are met with accusations of the party simply being money-hungry: The dollar is there to show how it’s a definitive fight for equality and clarity to the policies for NFL cheerleaders, not for the money. This settlement amount mirrors Taylor Swift’s award of $1 by counter-suing in a federal court case in which she claims she was groped by Ex-DJ David Mueller, who denied it and attempted to discredit Swift by hitting her with a $3 million lawsuit for ruining his career with a false accusation. Both of these cases carry a hard-hitting message: They’re not about making a fortune or really “winning” anything as much as they’re about pointing a spotlight on an issue that needs to be discussed and changed for the better.
In what we would think is a progressive society that is open to gender equality, the NFL has a long way to go in ensuring that the players aren’t assumed predators and that the cheerleaders have a voice in bringing attention to better an organization they wish to work for. Davis is a catalyst for a new generation of athletes seeking to establish equal expectations and reformed policies.