The Trump Files: His Football Team Treated Its Cheerleaders “Like Hookers”

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This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on July 5, 2016.

When Donald Trump bought the New Jersey Generals, a team in the short-lived United States Football League, he knew exactly what he could offer New York City that the National Football League’s Giants and Jets didn’t have: cheerleaders.

The arrival of the Generals’ cheer squad, called the Brig-a-Dears, was big news. The New York Times wrote a long story about the tryouts, held in late 1983 and early 1984. One enthusiastic applicant said she would “put on a chicken suit and roll around on the 50-yard line if they’d let me.” The judges included Andy Warhol, LeRoy Neiman, and Ivana Trump, who also designed the squad’s uniforms. “Ivana voted for any of the girls who looked like her,” Warhol later wrote.

With 400 women seeking a spot and lots of press coverage, the project got off to a great start. But as soon as the squad was put together and started cheering on the team, the problems began. At the first home game of the season, in March 1984, Generals fans pelted the cheerleaders with snowballs, and one drunk fan hopped onto the field to harass two of the women. The abuse from fans continued at subsequent games. The cheerleaders also complained the team was sending them to do shady promotional events at bars instead of the “dancing engagements, television appearances and acting and modeling jobs” they had been promised, the Times reported. Those career-enhancing opportunities were the reason the women were willing to cheer for just $35 a game, the cheerleaders insisted.

“I really don’t feel that going into bars in these skimpy outfits in front of 25 drunken men is the kind of publicity we should be involved in,” said the group’s director, Madeline Colangelo. She resigned in April after the Generals refused to make changes, and 11 of the cheerleaders skipped the April 15 game against the Arizona Wranglers in protest. They were fired.

“I’ve never been involved with anything so shabby before,” the group’s choreographer told the Associated Press. One of the cheerleaders, then-17-year-old Lisa Edelstein, noted, “We had complained for months that the outfits fitted poorly in the back and exposed too much. Then they want us to go into a bar [filled with] drunk men dressed like that. It’s disgusting.”

Edelstein is now a well-known actress who has starred in The West Wing and House, M.D., and time doesn’t seem to have improved the memories of her Generals cheerleading career. During an interview last year on HuffPost Live, Edelstein said the team had treated the women “like hookers…They weren’t protected and they were feeling really unsafe and uncared for and just sort of thrown into these environments.”

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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