Jesse Hernandez stood on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field on Friday night, dressed in black skinny jeans with a rally towel in his back pocket, black high tops and a New Orleans Saints jersey. The 25-year-old smiled a toothy grin as he sashayed and high kicked alongside about 30 women — a first for this NFL team.
On Aug. 17, Hernandez made his debut as the first male cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints’ Saintsations. Hernandez — who is openly gay — joins a small list of male NFL cheerleaders, with two others on the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading roster. Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies of the Los Angeles Rams were inducted into the Rams’ Cheerleaders this season.
For Hernandez, who was also the first boy to perform on his high school’s dance team, Friday’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals was a long time coming.
"This is the start of a new journey for a lot of people," he told New Orleans’ CBS affiliate, 4WWL. "Myself included.
Throughout the night, Hernandez stood, often in the center of the formations — without pom poms — and danced along to songs including “Sax” by Fleur East.
It was the biggest crowd Hernandez had ever performed for with one special member of the crowd cheering him on — his mom, Tracey Hernandez. She spent about $100 on lower-bowl tickets and drove two and a half hours to watch Jesse, according to The Advocate. She’s also a dance instructor herself and the one who got Jesse into dance at the age of 2-years-old.
“I know a lot of people used to feel the Saintsations and the other girls were there to give the guys in the stands something to look at during games,” Tracey Hernandez told The Advocate. “But times have changed. And I just hope that people can be open-minded about it now.”
As noted by How Stuff Works, this isn’t the first time men have been welcomed to the sidelines. In the past, men have performed on behalf of the Baltimore Ravens as part of the team’s “co-ed stunt team.” The men with the group would be seen hoisting the female cheerleaders and catching them. But “these three new male cheerleaders are not that,” the article clarifies. Rather, Hernandez, Peron and Jinnies are featured alongside their fellow cheerleaders and are joining them in intense choreography, Rockette-style high kicks and hair flips.
“We’re in 2018. Things shouldn’t be just for men or just for women,” Tracey Hernandez told The Advocate. “If you have the ability to do it, you should be able to do it.”