Bailey Davis, a now-former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints, was fired in January over an Instagram photo of herself wearing what sounds like the equivalent of a bathing suit. Now she’s filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the team of gender discrimination, according to the New York Times.
Team rules forbid Saintsations cheerleaders from “appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie,” reports the Times. Davis posted a photo—to her private Instagram account—of herself wearing a “one-piece,” which suggests that she was actually wearing more than Saints cheerleaders routinely wear on the field (see: booty shorts and bra tops in the image above). But, really, that particular hypocrisy is the least offensive part of this story.
The Times looked into the Saints’ cheerleader handbook, as well as internal texts and emails, and found that the team has an anti-fraternization policy that is startlingly retro—even within the context of scantily-clad women shaking pompoms for gladiatorial men. It “requires cheerleaders to avoid contact with players, in person or online, even though players are not penalized for pursuing such engagement with cheerleaders,” reports the Times. The rulebook goes so far as to demand that cheerleaders “block players from following them on social media.” In other words, the Saints expect its cheerleaders to be the sexual gatekeepers for its male players.
It gets nuttier, per the Times:
Cheerleaders are told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave. There are nearly 2,000 players in the N.F.L., and many of them use pseudonyms on social media. Cheerleaders must find a way to block each one, while players have no limits on who can follow them.
The trouble began for Davis when rumors circulated that she had been seen at the same party as a Saints player. She denies the—it feels profoundly dumb to even call it this—allegation. Davis later alerted her supervisors that players had tried contacting her on social media and that she had not responded. This prompted the team to tell Davis and the rest of her squad “to all change their social media presence from public to private.” Davis did as directed and later posted the aforementioned “one-piece” photo. Somehow, management was tipped off and Ashley Deaton, senior director of Saintsations, texted Davis, “Very poor judgement to post a picture like that especially considering our recent conversations about the rumors going around about u,” she wrote. “This does not help your case. I’d expect you to know better.” Davis was fired four days later.
The team’s defense of its double standard for players and cheerleaders is that, as the Times paraphrases, the “rules are designed to protect cheerleaders from players preying on them.” Protect them until it gets them fired! But isn’t that so often the way: Paternalistically controlling women’s behavior under the guise of protecting them, only to limit their freedom and threaten key aspects of their existence—like, you know, the ability to make a living—while men see few, if any, consequences for the ostensible threat that they pose. Davis is out of a job but, as far as I can tell, the players who messaged her on social media are still (very) gainfully employed.