The NFL’s International Women’s Day Posts Were Hilariously Bad

A sports league littered with sexual harassment and discrimination failed to celebrate women? Shocking.

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The NFL’s International Women’s Day Posts Were Hilariously Bad
Photo:Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Chargers Instagram

I have a confession to make: International Women’s Day is one of my favorite days of the year. I crave the unmitigated chaos of watching corporate shills hype up the women making the most of capitalism, all while pretending they pay them fair wages. I delight in watching corporations scream on Twitter about breaking glass ceilings, while failing to mention the big fucking concrete ceiling they’ve installed just above. Perhaps most of all, I love keeping an eye on what the particularly shitty NFL and its teams are saying—or, rather, what they’ve conveniently left out. Lucky for you, I spent the last 24 hours tracking their movements on social media like a holed up agoraphobe.

After gathering data from all 32 teams’ and the league’s main Instagram and Twitter accounts, I can tell you that six teams (including Dan Snyder’s much-reviled Commanders) kept their traps shut by posting nothing at all in honor of IWD. At least 14 of the 27 organizations with cheerleaders (including the NFL in this count) did not explicitly mention, depict, or honor their cheerleaders, who are arguably the most visible women representing their organizations. Lastly, it’s pretty notable that neither the NFL nor any of its teams attempted to actually apologize to the women they’ve all but tormented for the last decade.

To catch you up, there’s what we’ll call a big, sexist fireball that’s been blazing through the league over the past year. Thirty former NFL staffers told The New York Times last month that the league still maintains a “demoralizing” corporate culture for women. Tiffani Johnston, a former Redskins cheerleader, told a congressional committee that Snyder, the owner of the Commanders, had sexually harassed her after a team dinner, amongst a legion of other horrifying allegations. Also last month, ESPN dropped a bombshell report detailing the Cowboys’ $2.4 million settlement awarded to former Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders after they alleged a senior team executive had been filming them in their dressing room. On Monday, the NFL suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least 17 games for placing game bets on FanDuel in 2021, which feels like an iron fist of a punishment in comparison to the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended for just six games after a 2019 investigation revealed he had engaged in domestic violence on “multiple occasions.”

With that in mind, it’s hilariously irritating that the Los Angeles Chargers posted a video of a duck on Tuesday instead of, say, apologizing for quietly disbanding their cheerleaders during covid. Other teams, like the Steelers, chose to dedicate this once-socialist, momentous occasion to promoting their new women’s apparel collection. They even celebrated their women fans, but not their women employees (the Panthers also posted pics of their fans, just ignoring their staffers and cheerleaders). The Colts “celebrat[ed] the women of the Horseshoe,” (except their cheerleaders who are not pictured on the main account, whoopsies!), while the Dolphins hyped their girlbosses on Twitter and then posted this totally unrelated art project on Instagram. And, of course, the Broncos were too busy jizzing about their trade for Russell Wilson to post on IG in honor of IWD; instead, they posted a Castaway reference dedicated to, you guessed it, Wilson.

The Rams posted nothing on Twitter, and wrote that “Women belong wherever they want to be” (just not in this carousel, where the cheerleaders are noticeably missing!!!) on Instagram. Embroiled in their voyeurism scandal, the Cowboys made an interesting choice to honor only girls playing flag football and say nothing at all about their beloved cheerleaders on its main accounts. The Raiders, who typically do a good job of integrating their cheerleaders with the organization, posted a pic of their QB and his lady on a red carpet and did not acknowledge IWD. The Commanders, laughably, did not post a tribute to their women staffers on either main account, though they did post on their Entertainment Team account and promptly blocked one of the former employees who has repeatedly spoken out about her treatment during her time on staff.

I would be remiss not to give begrudging kudos to the Lions, Seahawks, and Ravens for actively and intentionally including their cheerleaders in their IWD coverage, and to the Patriots for putting one of their cheerleaders on a panel alongside other business leaders in the organization. All other teams, look to these guys for inspiration for next year.

To be clear, in the above data set, I chose not to include or count IWD content that was posted only to the teams’ cheerleader accounts—which include this touching video on the Raiderettes’ Instagram account and this team photo of the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders. Most team cheer accounts offer just a small percentage of the platform the main team accounts offer: The 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders’ Instagram account, for example, has over 100K followers, which is a measly 4% of the 2.4 million followers the 49ers boast on their main account. It’s mind-boggling to me that when an opportunity to give women a wide-reaching platform was available on a silver platter, most teams opted out.

As for the NFL, notorious for tooting their own horn when it should not be tooted, the organization appeared devoid of its normal “We love women!” pomp and circumstance. The league tweeted about their ongoing Peacock series “Earnin’ It,” dedicated to all the women breaking glass ceilings in the league, except for the cheerleaders who the NFL seemed to have forgotten, again. They hyped their annual Women’s Forum, which is said to advance career opportunities for women in the league, and promoted another ongoing content series called “Next Woman Up,” spotlighting some of the most powerful women in the league. Not to say that these women aren’t doing incredible things within a league that reeks of bro-ish toxicity: Women referees, coaches, owners, and executives are paving the way for young women and nonbinary people of the future. But none of them—not the teams, the league, or the women still existing in the league—made the sort of statement I, and surely many other women who have been harmed within the industry’s clutches, were hoping to see: a simple “We’re sorry, and we can do better.”

You’d think that the NFL’s well-oiled communications machine might know how to carry the ball over the goal line, but they had nothing to say to us. I’m sure they know they’ve shattered something. I’m just not convinced it’s all those glass ceilings they love to talk about.

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