WFT to Replace Cheerleaders with Coed Dance Squad for 2021 Season

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

FILE - Washington Football Team cheerleaders perform before an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Landover, Md., in this Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, file photo. The Washington Football Team will not have cheerleaders for the 2021 season as part of an organizational rebranding. Washington hired Petra Pope, who managed the
Daniel Kucin Jr./Associated Press

The Washington Football Team will replace its cheerleaders with a coed dance squad for the 2021 NFL season as part of its continued organizational restructuring.

WFT senior adviser Petra Pope told Jori Epstein of USA Today the team's former cheerleaders are eligible to try out for the new dance group, which will feature a "skill set of being super athletic, which is what we're really honing in on."

"We want to be more inclusive, so we are going to invite a coed entity [to audition]," Pope said Tuesday. "We're able to do more things with the strength of a male, and lifts, so that's changed a great deal. The inclusivity, strength and interest of choreography has changed."

Shannon and Candess, two members of the First Ladies of Football, the team's cheerleader group, spoke out about the decision:

First Lady Shannon @1stLady_Shannon

@WashingtonNFL Oh thanks for letting us know this way! Very kind of you!

First Lady Candess @1stLady_Candess

& to dissolve the position of an OVERQUALIFIED Black Woman (Jamilla Keene-please google her & what contributions she’s made to the @WashingtonNFL) & to hire a White woman instead who is qualified yes, but has NO experience running a NFL cheer team or even WFT culture is...comedy.

First Lady Shannon @1stLady_Shannon

@Dunn1216 @WashingtonNFL We have a co-ed team already....they are called the R Team and do an amazing job on game days. That team could have easily been expanded into a hip hop team as well, seeing as most ladies that audition for that team have already tried out for cheer.

Pope previously worked with the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets to oversee their in-game experiences in a career that spans over 30 years.

She said the new coed dance squad will move away from things like calendar photo shoots that were part of the cheerleaders' experience.

"At this point, as we re-imagine what this looks like, that's not in the plans," Pope told Epstein. "We're going to move forward to a more modern entity, and that more than likely will not be a part of it. Right now, we're thinking modern, modern franchise. A calendar is not a part of that process."

In February, a group of former cheerleaders reached a confidential settlement with the Washington Football Team after allegations that footage from the photo shoots that showed the women partially naked was taken and shared without their knowledge.

A source told Epstein the changes to the game-day experience at FedEx Field were "unrelated" to the settlement.

The allegations were revealed as part of two Washington Post investigative articles last summer in which more than three dozen current and former members of the WFT organization alleged sexual harassment had become part of the workplace culture.

Team owner Daniel Snyder hired Jason Wright as the new president in August, and Wright confirmed he'd work to put more women in positions of power as the organization moved forward following the allegations:

"The facts say when you have a diverse leadership team, when you give more than one woman a voice in meaningful decisions, you get to better outcomes. It's so empowering to all of our employees and particularly those that may have had challenges in the past to actually exerting their voice and bringing their full selves is priority No. 1."

The rebrand also included eliminating the team's former nickname and logo, which were viewed as racist toward the Native American community.

A new nickname is expected to arrive in 2022, and the Washington Football Team moniker will remain in place for next season.