By Rebecca Gibian / October 8, 2018

Cheerleaders Fight Back Over Decades-Long “Exploitation” by the NFL

Vanity Fair finds it was all part of league strategy to "sell sex on the sidelines."

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

They’re not cheering the NFL: Over the past year, the National Football League has face a variety of lawsuits and allegations over its treatment of cheerleaders.

Five former members of the Washington Redskins squad say that the team flew them to Costa Rica in 2013, took away their passports, and required them to pose topless in front of rich fans. In March, Bailey Davis, a former member of the New Orleans Saints squad, sued the team for firing her over an Instagram photo she posted of herself in a lace bodysuit. And in June, six former cheerleaders filed a federal sex-discrimination suit against the Houston Texans, in which they claim they were paid less than the state’s minimum wage — and were body-shamed by the coach.

Vanity Fair writes that this current crisis, however, is the result of a series of carefully crafted marketing plans that teams throughout the league put into place during the 1970s to “sell sex on the sidelines.” Front offices gave NFL cheerleaders an extreme makeover in order to tap into the fantasies of male fans, right at the same time that football was transforming itself into the world’s most lucrative sports-entertainment behemoth.

“They own you,” says Debbie Kepley, a personal trainer in Los Angeles who performed as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader during the boom years of 1976 to 1978, according to Vanity Fair. “Even though they wanted you to be a representative of the Cowboys, you were still just an accessory—a sideline accessory. It’s like being a Miss America—you will do anything they say to be a part of all of the glitz, the glamour, the cameras, the excitement and hope. That’s where they take advantage of people.”

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