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NFL cheerleader sues over patronizing sexist policies

A former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints, Bailey Davis, is suing the team because of policies it allegedly required her and other cheerleaders to comply with to prevent them from being “preyed upon” by male athletes. For example, according to Davis, the Saints prohibited cheerleaders from being in the same bar or restaurant as male professional athletes who played in the NFL or NBA. So, Davis says, if an NFL football player or NBA basketball player entered a restaurant where she was eating, the Saints’ policy required her to leave the restaurant.

Davis was fired for violating a policy that prohibited cheerleaders from posting pictures of themselves on social media where they are nude, seminude, or in lingerie. Davis posted a picture of herself in a lace bodysuit. Davis argues this policy is unfair because the Saints do not prohibit the players from posing topless. “I’m in a swimsuit or in a body suit, it’s seen as something sexual. But the players can post shirtless in their underwear and it’s just seen as athletic,” said Davis.

The whole notion that women must be protected from male NFL and NBA athletes is offensive on a few levels. First, the policy presumes that men and women have to be separated or else they will act inappropriately with one another. This type of justification for segregation among the sexes, sometimes called “benevolent sexism,” should be a relic of a bygone era. Benevolent sexism has been used for decades as a justification to exclude women from certain professions and places in society.

Second, the policy has racial undertones given the fact that most NFL and NBA players are African American. One pernicious stereotype about African American men is that they prey on women.

Third, the fact that the female cheerleaders have to vacate a bar or restaurant when a player happens to walk into the same establishment, instead of requiring the player to go someplace else, is pure and simple discrimination. This policy is designed to never inconvenience men and only inconvenience women.

Davis’s complaint is currently pending before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal civil rights law that prohibits private employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sex requires workers to file a complaint with the EEOC before pursuing a lawsuit in court.