An explosive new report claims that the Dallas Cowboys paid out a whopping $2.4 million settlement after four members of the Cowboys’ cheerleading squad alleged that the team’s longtime senior vice president for public relations and communications filmed them while they were changing.
On Wednesday, ESPN reported Richard Dalrymple was seen with his iPhone extended in the cheerleaders’ locker room during a 2015 event at AT&T Stadium. The report also claimed that Dalrymple took upskirt photos of Charlotte Jones Anderson, a team senior vice president and daughter of team owner Jerry Jones. That event allegedly took place in the Cowboys’ war room during the 2015 NFL Draft.
While Dalrymple, who retired earlier this month, claims the accusations against him are “false,” he was issued a disciplinary letter in 2015 and had his access to the cheerleaders’ locker room revoked. The Cowboys also changed their security measures around the locker rooms at the time, adding cameras, new signs, and revised alert systems. A representative for the Cowboys told ESPN that the team investigated the alleged incidents and “found no wrongdoing by Dalrymple and no evidence that he took photos or video of the women.” A settlement was ultimately reached in May 2016 and included a nondisclosure agreement that precluded the four women who witnessed Dalrymple’s alleged misconduct, three of their spouses, and Cowboys officials from speaking publicly about their claims.
Notably, a former cheerleader who knew about the dressing room incident told the publication that it became a widely discussed event. “It hurt my heart because I know how much it affected the people who were involved,” the former cheerleader said. “It was a very ... shut the book, don’t talk about it, this person is going to stay in his position ... They just made it go away.”
Last week, Jezebel spoke with Sarah Hepola, a writer at large at Texas Monthly who recently chronicled the complicated legacy of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in a new podcast called America’s Girls. She said most of the women she spoke to for the podcast felt safe within the confines of the Cowboys organization. But things shifted to more of a “libertine attitude” when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.
“I’m reminded that a common saying inside the Dallas Cowboys organization is ‘Don’t Tarnish the Star.’ There’s so much pressure on these young women not to do anything less than perfect—perfect hose, perfect nails, perfect formation, perfect social media posts—lest anything reflect badly on the team,” Hepola said. “So it gets me a little jacked when there are men doing as they please with flagrant disregard for how it looks, how it affects the women, or their own souls.”
Over the last decade, NFL cheerleading has been marred by documented body shaming, control, and exploitation. Amidst a slew of wage lawsuits, a former Oakland Raiderette sued the Raiders in 2014 for paying her just $1,250 for an entire year of work. A 2018 New York Times investigation revealed that most teams were governed by outdated and sexist handbooks: Ravens cheerleaders were forced to participate in regular weigh-ins, Bills cheerleaders were required to sell at least 50 of their own bikini calendars, and Saints cheerleaders were forbidden from fraternizing with players. Most cheerleaders have to maintain outside gigs and careers to support themselves; for some, additional jobs are contractually required.
Despite the growing number of lawsuits and whistleblowers, the women-dominated sport remains largely unchanged. NFL cheerleaders have tolerated both subtle and egregious mistreatment for decades. After New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis was fired in 2018 for posting a photo of herself in a lace bodysuit on her Instagram, she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit, alleging that the Saints held their cheerleaders and players to conflicting standards. In response, the New York Times reported in 2019 that the Saints threatened to sue Davis for defamation, and the team has declined to discuss her allegations.
In July of 2020, The Washington Post first detailed rampant sexual harassment that had plagued over a dozen former Washington Football Team employees. Then, in August of the same year, the Post dropped a second bombshell report that detailed how Washington owner Dan Snyder had allegedly directed his broadcaster and senior vice president Larry Michael to cut together a video of the “good bits” from the cheerleaders’ annual bikini shoot—footage in which they were unknowingly exposed while shifting between poses and adjusting props. In the broader context of the #MeToo movement, these incidents aren’t just newsworthy—they’re exemplary of the way in which some of the league’s most powerful men might be regularly sexually harassing NFL cheerleaders without their knowledge or consent. This isn’t the first time cheerleaders have risked their livelihoods, and it probably won’t be the last.
Unionized football players have an extensive collective bargaining agreement that carefully spells out players’ guaranteed rights, including minimum salaries, meal allowances, days off, right to medical care and treatment, worker’s compensation, injury protection, and a disability and neurocognitive benefit plan. Cheerleaders, meanwhile, do not have a league-wide union. The Buffalo Jills were the first NFL cheerleaders to unionize in 1995, but the union was short-lived. In 2014, after five former team members filed a lawsuit alleging wage theft, groping, and inappropriate sexual comments, the Jills were disbanded altogether.
In short, there are close to no protections in place for cheerleaders within their own organizations, as we saw in Dallas this week. “The sports world is new to me, but I get the sense that the NFL is pretty dark,” Hepola told Jezebel. “Sometimes I wondered if the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were something like the perfect, manicured front lawn of a house that was quite haunted.”