When the Washington Football Team kicks off a new season later this year, cheerleaders won't be on the sidelines for the first time since 1962.
The organization announced this week that it is replacing its cheerleading squad, known as the "First Ladies of Football," with a coed dance team. The program was paused last month while officials worked on rebranding it.
“As we set out to modernize the Washington Football gameday, it's important that we develop a top-notch entertainment program that keeps our fanbase excited and connected to the game and the team,” Washington Football Team president Jason Wright said in a statement.
The shift to a coed dance team is the latest in a series of changes for the NFL franchise. Last year, the team's old name, long condemned as an anti-Indigenous slur, was retired.
Wright said he expects a new, permanent name to replace Washington Football Team in 2022.
This week's announcement also comes after the organization reached a settlement with a group of former cheerleaders who appeared in lewd videos allegedly shown to team executives in 2008 and 2010, NBC Washington reported. It is awaiting the results of an NFL investigation into sexual harassment and misconduct accusations across the organization, according to the station.
Petra Pope, a 33-year NBA veteran who managed the Laker Girls and launched the Knicks City Dancers, was hired Wednesday to oversee the Washington Football Team's revamped entertainment experience. She will select and train new personnel and develop new choreography that emphasizes athleticism and dance for the team’s first “gender-neutral and diverse” squad.
Pope told The Associated Press that the contracts of previous cheerleaders expired, but they will be able to try out for the 2021 group “as long as they have the athletic skill set."