The NFL’s newest rookies: Male cheerleaders

The start of the 2018 NFL season arrives with many of the same unanswered questions as the last: Will players continue to protest during the national anthem? Will the new catch rule confuse fans and players? Will television ratings continue to decline?

But one thing has changed.

Cover photo: Butch Dill/Associated Press

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Men are now a part of two NFL cheerleading squads, a small change for a league that has struggled to evolve. (But, technically, a pair of teams made the decision to add the dancers, not the league itself.) And although male cheerleaders are common in college sports, they have never performed in the NFL.

Associated Press

The cheerleading tradition in professional football dates from 1954, when a group of female fans started a squad for the Baltimore Colts. They purchased their own uniforms and used homemade pompoms, according to the Baltimore Sun. They also were unpaid. Now, 26 of 32 NFL teams have cheerleader squads.

Two teams have added male dancers this season: the Los Angeles Rams’ squad and the New Orleans Saintsations. Napoleon Jinnies and Quinton Peron are rookies with the Rams.

Napoleon Jinnies

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Quinton Peron

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

When Jinnies and Peron made the Rams’ team, Jesse Hernandez was inspired to try out for the Saintsations.

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The timing is especially interesting for the Saints’ squad. In March, former Saintsations member Bailey Davis filed a federal complaint against the team alleging gender discrimination; she later offered to settle for $1 and a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (The league didn’t accept but said it was willing to listen to recommendations, and Davis’s lawyer said she would suspend the complaint.) Davis argued the rules are different for male and female employees, drawing national attention to what she said was the inherent sexism of being employed as a professional cheerleader.

Introducing male cheerleaders now suggests the league is beginning to move to address social change on the field, too — at least on the sidelines.

Bill Feig/Associated Press