Cheerleading horror: ‘Porn stars, crack whores’
THE longtime director of the Houston Texans' cheerleading squad resigned this week in the face of allegations from former members that she routinely body-shamed them - allegedly calling them "crack whores" and "jelly bellies", and even duct-taping one woman's stomach so she would appear thinner.
A spokesperson for the team confirmed this week that Altovise "Alto" Gary stepped down from her role with the American NFL franchise. The move comes after she was named in recent lawsuits by former cheerleaders who said they weren't paid for all their work and that they were ridiculed for their looks, Houston news outlet KHOU reported.
In the first lawsuit, filed in Houston federal court in May, three cheerleaders said they were harassed by Gary over their weight and ethnicity. And they claimed that she took no action when they were "physically assaulted by fans".
According to the suit, Alto told one girl she had "belly jelly" and that she was a "chunky cheek" during the 2017 football season. She also duct-taped a member's stomach and then brought her out in front of the other cheerleaders to show them how much "better it looks", the suit alleges.
"Coach Alto walked up to a cheerleader and poked her face asking her if she had gained her 'freshman 15 (pounds)' saying she looked like she 'ate a plate of salt,'" the lawsuit alleges.
She also allegedly told a Hispanic cheerleader she couldn't have straight hair and needed to curl it or she would "find another Latina girl to replace her".
One of the plaintiffs, a cheerleader named Gabriella Davis, told Vanity Fair that Gary called the cheerleaders "crack whores" if she thought they over-dyed their hair "too blonde" or had too much make-up on.
"Instead of saying, 'You know, girls, let's watch what we're eating,' we're called 'jelly bellies,'" she said. "And instead of saying, 'Let's watch what we're posting on social media,' we're called porn stars or crack whores. It's not OK to be speaking to us like that, regardless of what I signed up for."
Five other former cheerleaders, represented by lawyer Gloria Allred, also sued the Texans in June, alleging they were underpaid and bullied, but Gary was not directly named as a defendant in that suit.
"We were harassed, bullied and body-shamed for $7.25 an hour," claimed ex-cheerleader Ainsley Parish when the lawsuit was filed in Houston federal court in June.
Another former cheerleader, Hannah Turnbow, said she was told to "just suck it up" when she was attacked by a fan at a game.
The lawsuit was later dropped after the cheerleaders agreed to arbitration.
"I believe that our lawsuit and the voices of our brave clients have made an important impact on the Houston Texans. As a result of their courage, there appears to be an important change taking place in the staff," Allred said this week.
The organisation commented on the lawsuits initially by saying it doesn't tolerate mistreatment of its employees and was looking forward to defending itself against the allegations.
Spokeswoman Amy Palcic told the Houston Chronicle that Gary resigned of her own accord for personal reasons and had no additional comment.
The cheerleaders will perform at the Texans' next home game on August 30 against the Dallas Cowboys.