A former temporary league worker named Victoria Russell claims in her recently-filed discrimination lawsuit against the NFL that NFL Films maintained a catalog of sexually charged images of team cheerleaders and even fans. The database of timestamped footage included descriptors like “cheerleaders buttocks,” “cheerleaders rear end,” “female fan in bikini top,” “naughty camera work,” “close up of cheerleader’s breasts; cleavage shot,” “shot of endowed woman” and “random woman, cleavage shot,” per The Wall Street Journal.
League spokesperson Brian McCarthy told the press that such “sensitive” footage is so marked to prevent it from being used in future NFL Films productions. He also made sure to delegitimize the charge by attacking its source’s credibility, saying, “Ms. Russell didn’t have credentials for the logging system, nor did any aspect of her responsibilities involve accessing footage.”
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However, the plaintiff said in the lawsuit that she uncovered “a chat room log tracking timestamps on NFL footage and linking the timestamps to sexualized and offensive descriptions of women captured on that footage” while conducting an audit of the human resources system. She said there were about “14 pages of sexually degrading remarks of women” as well.
Russell’s story arrives shortly after Capitol Hill’s House Committee on Oversight and Reform slammed Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL for a series of workplace culture problems that included sexual misconduct. The federal report also said Commander team cheerleader photo shoot “outtake” videos were produced between 2008 and 2010, which the league possessed but, according to the Journal’s report, refused to deliver to the House committee after a legal deal was struck between the two bodies.
All of these league issues and others — such as additional discrimination charges by a former head coach, a pending suit tied to its illicit price fattening of TV packages and another suit that says the league denies disability benefits, plus the Deshaun Watson sexual misconduct case and controversy, as well as news that Boston University researchers found that more than 90 percent of former NFL players they studied have CTE — have become public in just the past few months. They’re indicative of systemic abuses of power and widespread workplace toxicity, to put it mildly.
Still, the ratings for the most recent Super Bowl were just reported to be the third-highest in the game’s history. According to Front Office Sports, about 60 percent of the U.S. population — 200 million people — watched the Chiefs defeat the Eagles last month. NFL sponsorship revenue hit an all-time high this past season and ticket sales may have, too.
So while the zeitgeist conversation around sexual misconduct, workplace culture and worker equity may have changed of late, in the NFL it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. And with revenue continuing to grow, primarily due to unrelenting fan attention, the league won’t have much motivation to improve upon its track record of such improprieties in any meaningful way.
The next lawsuit is probably only a matter of time.