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Washington Football Team will discontinue cheerleading team, replace with co-ed dance squad
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Washington Football Team will discontinue cheerleading team, replace with co-ed dance squad

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Washington Redskins cheerleaders

The "First Ladies of Football" have performed at Washington football games since 1962.

For the first time since 1962, the Washington Football Team won't have cheerleaders this season.

Instead the team will replace the group - first called the Redskinettes and later the First Ladies of Football - with a coed dance squad, the latest in a series of sweeping changes designed to modernize the franchise.

The changes come as owner Dan Snyder continues to come under fire for an alleged culture of mismanagement, sexual misconduct and hostility towards those who questioned him.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the NFL will receive the results of an independent investigation into allegations by more than 40 women of sexual harassment while they were working for the team.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week he expects the report will spur further changes, but he lauded Snyder for the efforts he's taken so far to create a more inclusive workplace.

Ending the cheerleading program is part of that overhaul.

The Washington Post reported that team video employees created unauthorized videos from cheerleader calendar photo shoots that showed the women while they were not fully dressed. (The team and the cheerleaders reached a confidential settlement in legal action stemming from the report.)

During the 2020 season, when fans were mostly not allowed at FedEx Field, the cheerleaders continued to perform, but did so via recorded videos that were played inside the stadium and on the team's social media outlets.

After news broke that the team would be disbanded, the First Ladies of Football wrote an open letter asking for reinstatement and the re-hiring of team director Jamilla Keene, who was not retained.

It read, in part: "While we appreciated the organization's efforts to reimagine the gameday experience 'in a way that both honors and modernizes our traditions,' we are disappointed by how this phase of the rebranding journey was handled - and at our expense.

"Despite reports of sexual misconduct endured by female employees, we've remained committed to supporting those mistreated in our community, evolving our program, and changing the narrative of women in sports."

The dance team will be overseen by longtime NBA dance team leader Petra Pope, who has worked with the Lakers and Knicks, among other teams.

In a Wednesday interview, she promised to bring fresh ideas and a commitment to inclusion to the position.

"I've met multiple times with both Tanya and Dan Snyder, and I am convinced of their commitment," she said. "They have undergone significant changes to make this franchise much more modern, much more inclusive and much more diverse. I'm proud to be a part of this."

The changes have come at a dizzying pace in Washington, where just four years ago the team was named the Redskins, Snyder gave $500,000 to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee, and none of the team's senior leadership was diverse.

Now, Washington has been lauded as the league's most diverse team, and last offseason Snyder gave $250,000 to kick-start a team initiative to promote racial equality.

"I'm convinced they are committed to change, and that's why I'm here," Pope said. "I believe in their vision, setting the trend and becoming the gold standard in the NFL. Who doesn't want to be a part of that?"

​mphillips@timesdispatch.com    (804) 649-6546     

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