There will be an absence of burgundy and gold pom poms on the football fields. They have been hastily replaced by a coed dance team. The NFL team formerly named Redskins, now known as the Washington Football Team, will be replacing its cheerleaders after 50 years. In effort to modernize the franchise, after dropping its name with (what some considered to be) racist undertones and because they were facing multiple sexual harassment claims, the team hired Petra Pope to be the new senior adviser for the team’s public image.
In an interview with CNN, Jason Wright, the team’s president, said they’re aiming to create “a top-notch” program. Further stating that “Petra is the ideal person to lead this charge” with her impressive background. Not only did she spend 33 years in the NBA as the manager of the Laker Girls, she also started the Knicks City Dancers, the original vision of Washington’s dance team.
In an interview with ESPN, Pope said, “The NBA has long embraced innovative dance and halftime shows, but most NFL teams have remained more oriented toward traditional cheerleading programs.”
These traditions have been ongoing for sometime. The Washington cheerleader team started in 1962, becoming known as the “First Ladies of Football” and being the second longest running professional cheerleading organization in the NFL. They represented the franchise at many events, from local to around the world. With Pope’s dance team, she is not “sure whether the dance squad would travel.” Her main desire is, for it to become the “gold standard” in the NFL.
“With that comes inclusivity, diversity and in my mind, as an entertainer, athleticism,” Pope told ESPN. “We’re looking for that super athlete that can dance, perform tricks, stunts and manipulate whatever props that will create a really great show.”
Since the contracts of the cheerleading team have expired, one can wonder if last season’s allegations of team’s employees had anything to do with their dismissal. Not wanting to add anymore controversy to the NFL team, the cheerleading program was put on pause after last season’s allegations involving two swimsuit calendar photo shoots, in 2008 and ‘10. Unbeknownst to the cheer team, two videos intended for private use would be produced using footage from that same shoot. Props used in the shoot proved insufficient at times, as certain parts of the body were exposed.
According to ESPN, “There are no plans for the dance team to do any calendars,” said Pope.
While there were no events scheduled this month, the cheerleaders were paid hourly to compensate for the inactivity and the dismissal from the franchise.
“Change can be extremely difficult,” Pope added. “I appreciate the passion that the ladies have and can relate to that passion because I’ve been a mentor for thousands of dancers over my career. As we progress to a reimagined era, the choreography will be much more athletic.”
The coed dance team will consist of 36 people, Pope insists that she’ll “welcome the dancers of the past to audition, and if they have that skill set, they’re welcome to join us.”