On a trip to Costa Rica in 2013 for the cheer team’s annual calendar shoot, five cheerleaders said, male sponsors were invited to photo shoots where the women were scantily clad or, at times, naked.
Those cheerleaders said many women on the team had long been afraid of coming forward with accusations of sexual harassment because they feared that the team would get rid of the program, as some other teams had done when cheerleaders spoke out about concerns like low pay. In 2014, Buffalo Bills cheerleaders sued the team for not paying them for all the hours they worked, and their squad was soon disbanded.
“It’s like the women there have been brainwashed to think it’s OK to be treated like garbage,” Allison Cassidy, a former Washington cheerleader, said in a 2018 interview. “So many of them are afraid that pointing out injustices will lead to the program folding, or that will lead to the collapse of their social circle, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Former cheerleaders for the Washington team said they had been expected to mingle and flirt with fans in the corporate suites and at tailgate parties on game days. Cassidy and others said they had been sent to promotional events where they were sexually harassed by men and generally felt unsafe.
Last year, cheerleaders made similar harassment accusations against the N.F.L. team. Later in the year, the team reached a settlement with several former cheerleaders, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The Washington Post also published an investigation into the mistreatment of the team’s female employees, citing 15 former workers in the team’s front office as sources.
The team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, fired several top executives who were connected to the harassment accusations, and he hired a Washington-based law firm, Wilkinson Stekloff, to look into the cheerleaders’ allegations. The N.F.L. took over the investigation, which is continuing.