The New Orleans Saints announced its 2019 Saintsations squad this afternoon — and three of the team's 32 cheerleaders this year will be men, after all three guys who tried out for the squad were chosen.
After making his debut last week as the first male member of the Saintsations dance team, Jesse Hernandez made a decision: He would ignore the…
Why the hate for Jesse Hernandez, the first male Saintsation?
Jesse Hernandez, who became the first male Saintsation in 2018, returns for a second year. Joining him are Dylon Hoffpauir, an exercise instructor who teaches an adult hip-hop class at GymFit in Baton Rouge, and Dante Sanders of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sanders was previously a cheerleader at East Mississippi Community College, whose campus was featured on the Netflix football documentary series "Last Chance U."
Last year, the Los Angeles Rams were the only other NFL team with male cheerleaders, Napoleon Jinnies and Quinton Peron. With three men on the squad, New Orleans may have more male cheerleaders on the field this year than any other team.
While NFL teams (including the Saints) have used men to perform cheer stunts in the past, Hernandez stood out from the women on the squad in a fleur-de-lis T-shirt, black dance pants and a towering hairstyle. Unlike his female counterparts, he eschewed pompoms and danced either bare-handed or with a white towel.
Reaction to Hernandez breaking the "cheer ceiling" wasn't entirely positive at first, but he became a fan favorite on the field, and received a proclamation from the New Orleans City Council recognizing his achievement.
Hernandez arrived to the Saintsations as NFL dance squads around the country faced questions about whether they subjected their mostly female cheerleaders to demeaning treatment. In addition to Hernandez joining the team, the Saintsations ditched the squad's skimpy uniforms, which mostly featured bare midriffs and bikini tops, and replaced them with more modest one-piece outfits.
This year's Saintsations auditions were held April 5 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Airline Drive, with a final round of auditions April 11.
The Saints preseason schedule also was announced this week, with Week One in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Minnesota Vikings (Aug. 8-12). The team will be on the road for the next two weeks with matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers and the New York Jets, and a final preseason game at home Aug. 29 or 30 against the Miami Dolphins.
The Black and Gold's regular season schedule will be released April 18.
Staff writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report.