The NFL’s Washington Football Team, which dropped its traditional name and logo last year, has decided to disband its cheerleading squad in favor of a more inclusive “co-ed entity.” The timing of the decision is interesting, however, given the franchise’s internal woes.
The NBA’s longtime gameday entertainment guru Petra Pope, who is the WFT’s newly hired senior adviser, told ESPN that this is part of a modernizing effort for the NFL franchise.
“With that comes inclusivity, diversity and in my mind, as an entertainer, athleticism. My desire is to create a team that is all of that — inclusive, diverse, coed, athletic — to set the gold standard in the NFL,” Pope said. “We’re looking for that super athlete that can dance, perform tricks and stunts and manipulate whatever props that will create a really great show.”
In a statement, WFT president Jason Wright praised Pope’s experience with the NBA Knicks, Nets, Lakers, and Clippers.
“As we set out to modernize the Washington Football gameday, it’s important that we develop a top-notch entertainment program that keeps our fanbase excited and connected to the game and the team,” Wright said, using some corporate-speak.
Former cheerleaders can apply for the anticipated 36 or so slots on the rebranded dance squad. Cheerleaders for the NFL Washington franchise, who became known as the First Ladies of Football, originally took the field in 1962, making them the longest-running group of cheerleaders in the league. There were no WFT cheerleaders on the field during the 2020 season; they only appeared via video owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to one inside source cited by several media outlets, the implementation of the new sideline entertainment format is supposedly unrelated to a settlement of sexual harassment allegations lodged against the franchise by some cheerleaders.
“Former Washington Football Team cheerleaders who appeared in lewd videos that team employees secretly produced from outtakes of 2008 and 2010 swimsuit calendar shoots have reached confidential settlements with the team,” the Washington Post reported on February 21, 2021.
The NFL is still investigating claims of workplace harassment within the team organization.
Around the time of the settlement, the team announced that it was temporarily pausing offseason activity of the cheerleaders and other related activities, so it seemed that the handwriting was on the wall. This approach is generally consistent within many risk-averse American corporations that find themselves in controversies in the current environment
Calendar shoots for the reimagined squad are apparently off the table. “Right now we’re thinking modern, modern franchise. A calendar is not a part of that process,” Pope explained.
The football team itself is expected to unveil its new name in 2022.
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