Herschel Walker's son pursues competitive cheerleading
When you see the lifts, the twists and the mind-boggling flips, there's no question cheerleaders are athletes. But that's not what everyone thinks when they hear the word "cheerleader."
"I thought, like, cheering at a game. And he says, 'No, no, no. Competitive cheer.' And I'm like, 'What? Like, what is that?"' NFL legend Herschel Walker said.
Walker's teenage son Christian decided last year that instead of picking up a football, he wanted to fly, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
"It feels like you're flying, but then you land and you just want to do it again. And that's what really drew me to cheerleading," Walker said.
Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He went on to become a superstar in the NFL, playing for the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and other teams.
Christian never felt like he would disappoint his father if he didn't follow his footsteps to play football.
"He's always encouraged me to do what I need to do. So that's what I've done," Christian said.
At first, Walker was baffled. In Dallas, he played on a team with the most famous cheerleaders in the world. Christian was talking about competitive cheering -- something entirely different.
"I didn't know what that was. Then he's, 'Oh, no. People turnin' flips and all this stuff. Dance and all this.' And I came out to see it. And I saw how athletic the kids were that was doin' it," Walker said.
He was shocked at the amount of people gathered to watch.
"I was like, 'Geez, I didn't realize it was that big of a sport,'" Walker said. "And I was proud that he was doin' it.'
In recent years, competitive cheering has exploded in popularity, and last year, the American Medical Association designated it a sport.
It takes strength, flexibility, focus, and above all, teamwork. In other words, a lot like football. But the NCAA so far is refusing to call it a sport, and the stigma about boys in cheerleading persists. In the last three years, three teenage boys have committed suicide after being bullied for cheering.
Christian also has been taunted, especially after TMZ ambushed Walker at an airport and laughingly asked whether Christian could be a cheerleader for the Cowboys.
"When everyone first found out about me cheerleading or, like, my dad's fans, they were really critical," Christian said.
They would say derogatory comments about his appearance.
"It just seems like they had a stereotype about cheer, that it was just for females," Christian said.
"It was almost shocking, because all my friends are so supportive," Christian added.
Walker said he felt angry, but he let it go.
"This what's so funny. You have immature people saying that. People that do not have a clue. So I'm not going to put them down. Because if I put them down, I become a bully," Walker said.
It's hard to believe when you see him, but as a child, Walker also was bullied.
"I had a speech impediment. Yeah, I used to stutter so bad. I was overweight," Walker said.
That drove him to sports, to change himself, and he said it gave him freedom to try unconventional things like ballet, while tuning out the critics -- lessons he's teaching Christian.
"So my thing is, if they don't understand, and they don't know, let 'em say what they want to say. But he's gotta believe what he believe, and what he knows from his mom and I," Walker said.
Christian's mother, Cindy, like Walker, ran track at the University of Georgia. And Christian runs track on his high school team.
Cindy said they encouraged Christian a little "on the track part, but football was just out of the question."
Christian just wasn't interested, Cindy said.
"I watch the way he move, and even though I was a running back I said, 'He can be a heck of a quarterback or a receiver,' by watchin' him do certain thing... But I said, 'That's not what he wants,"' Walker said.
Walker said he doesn't feel disappointed.
"Because-- I love him so much that if he never played football, I'm going to love him as much as I love him now," he said.
Walker said the key is supporting your child. He and Cindy go to all his cheering competitions. They were in Orlando this weekend for the the junior coed national championship, and Christian's team won first place.
for more features.