Parents of students at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria got angry at the school and Washington’s NFL team earlier this week when cheerleaders visiting a sixth-grade class for a poetry-reading event passed out posters of their squad’s official team portrait, featuring the cheerleaders wearing their usual game-day uniforms.
The cheerleaders were visiting the school as part of Read Across America, an annual event sponsored by the National Education Association timed to coincide with the birthday of the children’s author Dr. Seuss. But their appearance wound up sparking less praise for the NFL’s educational outreach and more outrage over the poster’s depiction of the cheerleaders.
Tony Wyllie, a spokesman for the Ashburn-based team, tells Washingtonian the posters feature the cheerleaders in their “official uniform” of midriff-exposing belly shirts and close-cropped boy shorts, which some parents described as bikinis. Wyllie also says the posters are typically distributed during the cheerleading squad’s public appearances.
School officials did not respond requests for comment, but according to a Facebook page for parents of George Washington students, the distribution of the posters distracted students from the intended message of the poetry-reading event.
“My daughter tells me a few Redskins cheerleaders were brought in to read poetry for Read Across America day, then they handed out flyers of the cheerleading team in bikinis,” one parent wrote. “The boys seemed interested in the flyers (understatement?); my daughter says she and her friends liked the poetry but found the flyers mildly disturbing.”
Other parents reported that some of the boys started ranking the cheerleaders by “hotness” and asked them “humiliating” questions about their relationships with players.
Jesse Mazur, George Washington’s principal, apologized to the upset parents on Facebook, writing that he was unaware of the promotional material the cheerleaders planned to bring with them:
In response to the 6th grade Read Across America event held yesterday, I would like to express my apologies for the distribution of the Redskin’s promotional poster. I personally found it in poor taste. The objectification of women is wholly unacceptable and the distributed poster undermines our collective values as a school, in which we seek to empower all students based on their individual merit and worth. Had I been aware of such a poster being distributed to our students, it would have been immediately halted. Nonetheless, the posters were distributed and I sincerely apologize for the messaging that was sent to our students as a result of this. In the future, I will play a larger role in the organization of such events to prevent anything like this from happening again.
In addition to leading chants at FedEx Field and making corporate and charitable appearances around Washington, members of the cheerleading squad—nicknamed the “First Ladies of Football”—do appear in an annual swimsuit calendar available for sale on the team’s website.