SALT LAKE CITY — Decades of unfair pay and body shaming are just some of the claims being made by former NBA dancers, including those from the Utah Jazz.
Three former Jazz dancers were interviewed in a Yahoo article making national headlines. KSL TV reached out to the three former dancers, but hadn't received a response as of Tuesday evening.
While these allegations aren’t anything new for dancers of professional sports teams, the Jazz organization says they have made program changes in recent years.
In response to the Yahoo article, Frank Zang, Vice President of Communications at Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, sent KSL this statement:
“The Jazz dancers are valued employees for their work as part of the game night experience and many hours spent as community ambassadors. In 2012, our organization reevaluated the program to ensure that it creates a positive and healthy work environment, adheres to the law for fair wages and aligns with our company culture of integrity. Leadership changes also resulted in our dance troupe now being under the direction of a former Jazz dancer.”
Two former Jazz dancers who still live in Utah say even with a different coach and philosophy, a total culture change is far-fetched.
Jennifer Stagg was on the team during the 1999-2000 season.
“I remember the coach saying, ‘I’m going to be honest, you guys are gaining weight,” Stagg said.
KSL TV tried reaching out to the former longtime coach of the team, Jan Whittaker, but didn't hear back from her Tuesday.
Stagg and Tamra Callahan say they made fond memories and friends while teammates during the 1999-2000 season, but they were treated like they were expendable.
“There were over 100 girls who auditioned the year that I made it. (You thought) that you were really lucky to be a part of the team,” Stagg said.
While Stagg left the team to pursue a TV gig, eventually working for KUTV, KSL & KSTU, Callahan danced for five years and was a captain.
“I think, more in hindsight, you were like, ‘That was not right,’” said Callahan.
“Three times a week, $20 a practice. I mean, it’s just crazy. My babysitter makes more money than I made as a Jazz dancer,” said Stagg.
Now that I have daughters — I have two in dance right now — I think coaches and organizations, in general, need to really look at long-term ramifications of creating a positive, uplifting environment." -Jennifer Stagg
They say they heard about their appearance more than their talent.
“It comes with the territory of dance, which is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate you can’t do what you love to do and just look how you look,” said Callahan.
In his statement, Zang later expanded on changes the Jazz dance team has made:
“The primary change has been the payment of fair wages for dancer participation in practice, games, travel and community appearances instead of a flat fee. We have also addressed healthy living issues where dancers set their own weight goals. We have implemented changes in oversight and management with Ashley Kelson (former Jazz dancer from 2008-13) as the program director. And the type of dancing has changed to a more athletic, sporty style.”
Despite this, Stagg and Callahan think more needs to be done.
“I think the coaches, messaging and the message coming from management very much reflected what they say they were hearing from fans,” said Stagg.
They say there needs to be a shift in NBA management and a shift within our society.
“Now that I have daughters — I have two in dance right now — I think coaches and organizations, in general, need to really look at long-term ramifications of creating a positive, uplifting environment,” Stagg added.
“For Donovan Mitchell, it’s about his performance. It’s not about his appearance, right? So for us, it wasn’t about, 'If you want to get your leaps up, you need to stop eating cheeseburgers.' It was, ‘You need to stop eating cheeseburgers because you have to wear this tiny little outfit in front of 20,000 fans.' So there’s the big difference there,” said Stagg.