Who says boys can’t be cheerleaders?
By: Triana Gando
Cheerleading has always been seen as a female-dominated sport we know of today. There are different layers to the sport on a competitive level with tumbling and stunting to a professional aspect that focuses more on dancing. Seeing a male performer would look a little odd, wouldn’t it? Actually, they were the first to lead this activity.
The phenomenon was introduced at the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. A group of male college students started the sporting tradition of leading fans with chants while adding claps and fist pumps. The school spirit traveled its way to the University of Minnesota where cheerleading was born. The school appointed six male students to lead and encourage the crowd with their rallies. They also added some accessories to their performance like megaphones, drums, whistles, and pom-poms.
It wasn’t until 1923 where the university allowed female students to join the team. Most college-aged men drafted into the military when World War II broke out. This left a few men in college. Thus, females stepped up and took on the male role of a cheerleader. Male participation in the sport fizzled out throughout the year and now became female-dominated. This school tradition has evolved into what we know as today whether that’s on the competition mat, basketball court, or football turf.
When it comes to NFL cheerleading, some teams like the Baltimore Ravens are co-ed where they primarily focus on partner stunts. All genders are welcome to try out but these two individuals became one of the first to break history and dance in the routines with the ladies.
In 2018, the LA Rams Cheerleaders made history by having two men a part of their team. Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies are two classically trained dancers. The two’s impulsive decision to audition on a whim turned iconic. The two went through an extensive three week tryout process of learning choreography and interviews. They wanted to prove themselves that just because they’re a different gender, it doesn’t mean any different. Peron and Jinnies had the ability to be among the other 38 ladies. Their talent and charisma spoke for itself. Not only were they the first male NFL cheerleaders, they were also the first to cheer at a Super Bowl game in 2019. The duo set the standard of having male cheerleaders in the NFL.
Peron and Jinnies has inspired another fellow male dancer to go professional. In 2018, the spirit squad for the New Orleans Saints, the Saintsations, also welcomed their first male cheerleader Jesse Hernandez. Hernandez also grew up as a classically trained dancer. Growing up in dance, another female-dominated sport, he received a lot of negative sexist comments. This didn’t change when he became an NFL cheerleader. After a local newspaper covered his recent success, some people in the comments weren’t too happy about it. People on Facebook also left homophobic and bigoted remarks in the comment section. Critics believed “degrading anything masculine shouldn’t belong in the NFL.” Sad, isn’t it? Who are they to talk down on this individual?
Kevin Allman, a writer from another local Louisiana newspaper, wrote on the backlash Hernandez received. He wrote, “For those obsessed with the nature of what a ‘man’ is, or should be, I’d submit that someone willing to put up with this level of ignorance to achieve his goals – to become the first bot on his small-town high school dance team, and the first man to become a Saintsation – has more guts and, yes, balls than some hateful jackass with a Facebook account. And I’d bet that not one of you loudmouth keyboard jockeys could pull off the moves better than an athlete like Jesse Hernandez executed so skillfully last night.” Well said.
Males are still expected to execute the same choreography as the females. Nothing is watered down for them. This is no problem for these three who have broken the expectation of an NFL cheerleader. Through their hard work, dedication, and passion for the art, they’ve truly proved themselves. Today, we can also now spot male cheerleaders for the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles. We can only expect more inclusivity and have more young men look up to these male cheerleaders. For Peron, Jinnies, and Hernandez, they want to inspire other young dancers and be the representation the community needs.