Former Washington Redskins cheerleaders pushed back Friday against explosive allegations in which fellow squad members said they were required to pose topless or pressured to serve as escorts during a racy trip to Costa Rica in 2013.
Although sex wasn't involved, the cheerleaders felt as if the arrangement by the team's director amounted to "pimping us out," according to a New York Times report first published online Wednesday.
Two former NFL cheerleaders who went on the trip also told NBC News that the Times report was true. But four others have come forward to say they were never asked to do anything against their will — and stood firmly on the side of their ex-employer.
"In all my six years, I never took off my top," former cheerleader Maya Bonello told the "Today" show. "Regardless of whether you took your top off or not, that was always a choice."
"If it was something you didn't feel comfortable with, you were able to not make that a part of your experience," added former cheerleader Tedi Tzinares.
Redskins team president Bruce Allen said in a statement Thursday that the organization is immediately looking into the situation and if the investigation shows that any employees acted inappropriately, "those employees will face significant repercussions."
Scrutiny over the treatment of Redskins cheerleaders comes amid larger concerns across the organization of discrimination in the cheer ranks, and about pay and work equity. All but five NFL teams — the Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers — have cheerleading squads.
The Times report said the 36 Redskins cheerleaders were going to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot at the Occidental Grand Papagayo, an "adults only" resort on Culebra Bay.
Some of the cheerleaders who spoke with the newspaper said they were told they had to be photographed topless, although no nude photos actually appeared in the actual calendar. Some of the women also wore nothing but body paint. While some cheerleaders weren't upset about being undressed, they said they didn't know that organizers also gave all-male FedEx Field suite holders up-close access to the shoots.
That night, about nine of the women were also asked to go out to a nightclub and be personal escorts for some of the male sponsors, the Times reported. Cheerleaders who spoke with The Times said they felt uncomfortable with the Costa Rica trip. Some didn't come back to the squad the following season.
Stephanie Jojokian, the longtime director and choreographer for the Redskins' cheerleader, disputed many of the women's accounts to the newspaper, and said it was not mandatory for any members to go out with men to a nightclub. "I was not forcing anyone to go at all," she added. "I'm the mama bear, and I really look out for everybody, not just the cheerleaders."
Rachel Gill and Charo Bishop, former team captains for the Redskins cheerleaders, echoed that sentiment and said Friday on "Today" that no one was being "pimped out" or had to work as escorts.
"We were always with someone we knew, we were always together," Bishop said of partying after the photo shoot.
Gill said the cheerleaders have a "sisterhood," and disputed that leadership didn't have their backs.
"I hate that this negative light has been portrayed on our organization for something I was so passionate about and so many women felt that this was the best years of their lives," Gill added.
The Times said it stood by its reporting. Jason Stallman, the sports editor, said in a statement: "Our article was based on interviews with five cheerleaders who were on the trip to Costa Rica, and details of their accounts were corroborated with others who heard descriptions of the events at the time. Since publication of our article, we have heard from even more Redskins cheerleaders who confirmed that our reporting was accurate. The two cheerleaders who were chosen by the Washington Redskins to speak in support of the team on the 'Today' show did not say anything to make us think that our article was anything but rock solid."
A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader who has spoken out about her experiences said not every woman feels protected by their team.
Bailey Davis, 22, was fired in January after violating the team's code of conduct by appearing in lingerie on social media. The photo, she said, was on her private Instagram account.
She called her ouster a double-standard after enduring situations where she felt pressured in other ways.
"We had to go to a yacht party with a fan and we had to sit around and mingle with his friends and they were hugging on us, it was very uncomfortable," she told the "Today" show. "I was 19 years old. There were two 18-year-olds on the team. They were serving alcohol, we were pressured to drink."
The Saints were reportedly looking into whether Davis also attended a party with football team members, which is prohibited by team rules.
Davis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Outside legal counsel for the Saints have denied her claims of discrimination and said the team is "confident that its policies and workplace rules will withstand legal scrutiny."
Davis' attorney has asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a meeting about changing rules that are unfair toward women.
In another case, former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware, 27, filed a complaint last month with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, saying she was discriminated against by the team and the NFL for talking about her Christian faith, and mocked for her virginity.
The NFL said in a statement that all employees, including cheerleaders, have "the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws."