Cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins say team officials required them to escort sponsors to a nightclub in Costa Rica in 2013, according to a report published Wednesday in The New York Times.
Members of the cheerleading squad said officials repeatedly crossed the line during a trip to the Central American country on a photo shoot.
First, they took the cheerleaders' passports. Then, they told them they were required to be topless for a photo shoot as sponsors and FedExField suite holders, who all were men, watched. Then, some of the cheerleaders were told they had to be personal escorts to sponsors at a nightclub.
"They weren't putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go," one of the cheerleaders told the Times. "We weren't asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing."
Several of the women started to cry as the Redskins' cheerleading director and choreographer, Stephanie Jojokian, told them to go to their hotel rooms to get ready.
The women said their participation in the event at the nightclub did not involve sex, but they felt the arrangement amounted to "pimping us out."
Jojokian told the Times that no one was forced to go to the nightclub and that the cheerleaders work in a "supportive environment."
The Redskins said in a statement that they protect and support their cheerleaders.
“The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service," the statement said. "Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in."
Video posted to social media from June 2, 2013 shows the cheerleaders "perform for guests of the resort."
At the nightclub, the cheerleaders said they were encouraged to drink and flirt with the sponsors. As they left, police officers stopped them and asked them for their passports.
"I guess they thought you were prostitutes," a man affiliated with the squad told them, they recounted to the Times.
Several women on the team decided not to return to the team the following season, the Times reported.
News4 contacted several former Redskins cheerleaders who were with the team in 2013. Two of them, who did not want to be identified, said the events described in the Times story were exaggerated and that the experience described in the story was not recognizable to them.
Another former cheerleader, Charo Bishop, tweeted "#fakenews" with a link to the Times story.
The report comes as former NFL cheerleaders file discrimination lawsuits. In April, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader said cheerleading coaches mocked her after learning she was a virgin.