The sporting world has a long way to go in terms of gender equality.
Female players are paid less across top end disciplines, there are rife levels of homophobia reported across most locker-room sports, and outdated debates are still surfacing around transgender athletes and their right to compete (Google it).
One such gendered example is the NFL and its cheerleaders, a long-standing tradition which has been upheld since 1898.
So it’s been an interesting turn of events for the organised cheerleading world in the last few days then, after Bailey Davis was fired from the New Orleans Saints cheerleading squad, clunkily named The Saintsations.
According to her former employers, Bailey Davis broke the rules the cheerleaders have to adhere to. But according to Davis, the rules are gender discriminatory – and the former cheer star has now filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as filing a lawsuit against her former employer.
So what happened? Well, the New Orleans Saints cheer squad handbook lays out some pretty strict rules: members of the cheer team aren’t supposed to fraternize or socialise with any male member of the team. According to the rulebook, if they arrive at a restaurant and a player is there, they must leave. And if they were there first and a male player arrives, they must also leave. There’s, not so shockingly, no such parameters applied to the behaviour of the male players.
It all went wrong for Davis, then, when she was apparently sighted at a party with a player for the New Orleans Saints, and rumours circulated (although nothing was confirmed).
Some days later, Davis posted a picture of herself in a swimsuit on her private Instagram account, to which she received a message from Ashley Deaton, the senior director of the Saintsations. The New York Times published the text, which read:
Very poor judgement to post a picture like that especially considering our recent conversations about the rumors going around about u.
This does not help your case. I’d expect you to know better.
And four days later, Davis lost her job on the team, on the grounds that posting any pictures which suggest nudity are a deal breaker.
Since, Davis has come forward to express the disparity in treatment between male players and female cheerleaders – explaining that there’s no rules for who players can follow and what they can post. Players, for example, would see no punishment for contacting a cheerleader, but were a cheerleader to respond she could, and likely would, be let go.
It’s too early to say what decisions will be made with regards to Davis’ claim of “gender discrimination”, and a lawyer representing the Saints told the New York Times that “it is sufficient to say that Ms Davis was not subjected to discrimination because of her gender".
Here’s to Davis, who hopes the message sent by her outspokenness is bigger than her, saying to the Times:
I’m doing this for them so they can do what they love and feel protected and empowered, and be a female athlete and not be pushed to the side and feeling unimportant.