We don’t usually cover sports, but this is too mind-boggling to pass over. For a few days, rumors started going around the internet that the Washington Post was about to expose some serious sh*t about the Washington Redskins (or whatever the f*ck they’re calling themselves now). That report came out yesterday, and it exposes a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, and complete lack of respect for women. Now, did I expect a team who’s been holding onto a racist name for years despite constant calls for change to be a beacon of tolerance and a safe place for marginalized people? Not exactly, but the allegations are still extremely disturbing.
The new exclusive report from the Washington Post details the alleged sexual harassment experienced by 15 female employees of the team and two female reporters. Disgustingly-but-not-super-shockingly, the alleged perpetrators of the harassment included higher-ups like Alex Santos, the club’s director of pro personnel; Richard Mann II, assistant director of pro personnel; Dennis Greene, former president of business operations; and Larry Michael, the senior vice president of content and “voice of the Redskins.” In other words, this sh*t went all the way to the top. As you probably already guessed, nobody felt safe going to HR because they didn’t think it would do anything and they feared retribution.
Santos, who was fired this past week, was accused by six former employees and two reporters of making inappropriate comments about their bodies (like telling one woman she had “an ass like a wagon”) and asking them to date him, acting like his workplace was his personal dating app. For all the men who might be reading this: No! He also told a reporter that she had a “great ass for a little white girl.” (This guy apparently had a thing for butts, because he also texted another employee that she had a “nice butt.” Gross.)
Mann, in similarly gross behavior, “joked” with an employee that he would bring her lunch if she’d let him squeeze her butt. He also texted one female employee asking if her breasts were real or fake, which he also said was a “joke.” Someone should teach these guys what a punchline is.
And Larry Michael, despite being the “voice” of the team, was no voice of reason. He apparently once commented on the attractiveness of an intern (imagine your grandpa telling you a girl in college is hot, now go pour bleach into your brain to erase that image), and in 2017 made a comment in passing that a woman from the sponsorship staff had a “tight ass” (again with the butts!!), as well as a number of other disturbing comments. Just this week, Michael announced his retirement, which I’m sure has nothing at all to do with the allegations.
And even the architecture of this f*cking place enabled these gross men to demean the female employees: there was one staircase that was lined with clear plexiglass at the top, which allowed anyone standing below to look up a woman’s skirt. The women would teach each other to avoid that staircase at all costs.
If the revelation that the Redskins management cultivates a culture of harassment and degradation of women surprises you, it shouldn’t, because back in 2018 they were exposed for treating their cheerleaders like sex workers for their male sponsors. In 2018, the New York Times published an explosive report about a 2013 trip to Costa Rica that was supposed to be a calendar shoot for the then-Washington Redskins cheerleaders, but ended up being more like a true crime documentary. First off, when the women arrived in Costa Rica, Redskins officials collected their passports, which is usually the first thing that happens when people arrive on a cult commune, not at a company event.
The photoshoot was taking place at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, which is a little eyebrow-raising in and of itself. And although they were told the shoot was for the calendar, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless… even though the pictures used in the calendar would not have nudity. Why be topless, then? Because the team had invited a few sponsors and FedExField suite holders to come watch.
Then, one night, nine of the cheerleaders were told by Stephanie Jojokian, the director of the squad, that they had a “special assignment” for the night: to personally escort some of the male sponsors to a nightclub. Even worse? They had reportedly been personally chosen by the men. Though the nightclub excursion didn’t involve sex, the cheerleaders said the demand (“We weren’t asked, we were told,” one of the women anonymously told the New York Times) amounted to “pimping us out.”
Jojokian, of course, vehemently denied that the nightclub event was mandatory and that the cheerleaders who went were chosen by the male sponsors, insisting to the New York Times that she’s a “mama bear” and the cheerleading squad is “a big family.” Two cheerleaders who were captains of the squad in 2013 said Jojokian never forced the women to do anything they didn’t want to, and characterized the nightclub night as “just a night of relaxation and to be away from it all.” They also went on the Today show to assert that nobody was forced to do anything, and they were not selected by the sponsors to accompany the men to the club.
The Redskins said in a statement, “The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment.” Sure.
And the Costa Rica trip wasn’t even the first time the team pulled a bait-and-switch, surprising them with men at what the cheerleaders thought was a team event. They also allegedly did the same thing in 2012 at a mandatory “team-bonding boat trip.” At that event, men were turkey basting liquor into cheerleaders’ mouths, handing out cash in twerking contests—sh*t you’d expect to see at a frat party, not a “team-bonding” event. (To her credit, Jojokian said she was unaware the men would be there.)
What’s even scarier is that apparently the entire reason those creepy men were there in the first place is because Greene sold access to the cheerleaders, including the Costa Rica photoshoot, as part of premium suite packages. He also started a program of “cheerleader ambassadors” who did not cheer or dance, but rather, they were hired for their appearance, to look pretty and entertain fans. Greene resigned in 2018 under pressure after the New York Times published an investigation into the program.
The team has hired a law firm who told the New York Times they would conduct “an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct.” The owner, Dan Snyder, said in a statement that they would “institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.”
In short, the Washington football team’s racist name is not the beginning and end of the issues with this team, and let’s hope they actually make good on their promise to create a “respectful and inclusive” team culture—but from these reports, they have a long f*cking way to go.
Images: Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images