In interviews with dozens of current and former cheerleaders — most of them from the N.F.L., but also representing the N.B.A. and the N.H.L. — they described systematic exploitation by teams that profit by sending them into pregame tailgating and other gatherings where they are subjected to offensive sexual comments and unwanted touches by fans.
Team officials are aware of the situation, the cheerleaders said, but do little to prevent harassment. Cheerleaders for most professional sports teams are required to mingle with fans at games and promotional events where encounters with intoxicated people can be harrowing.
Cheerleaders rarely report harassment cases, either because they feel it is an expected part of their job or out of fear of being removed from the team for complaining. For countless women who have worked for teams over the years, the statute of limitations, which varies by state, has most likely expired.