It’s been quite a last 10 months for Napoleon Jinnies, who on a whim tried out to be a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Rams and wound up along with Quinton Peron being the first male cheerleaders in the NFL, capping it off with performing in last week’s Super Bowl.
“This was such an opening year, not just for dancers but for the entire world that has been in this place of supporting gay people, supporting the Black community,” Jinnies said in a first-person interview with Refinery 29. “I’m so happy that we’ve been given this platform to inspire, especially in a world right now that’s a little chaotic and a little darker than it should be. So, I’ll keep dancing until my body gives up on me.”
The Refinery 29 interview was the first time Jinnies talked publicly about being gay, he told Outsports. “But, yes, I’m here and queer lol,” he wrote me in a message. “It was an awesome 10 months for sure.”
Jinnies is among the many LGBT people in sports who are out in every way but publicly declaring it — even his “happy pride” Instagram post from June could theoretically have come from a straight ally — so interviews like his with Refinery 29 are important for visibility (one of the best parts of the piece is his discussion of his makeup routine on game days).
Growing up, Jinnies struggled with being bullied for his sexual orientation, he said in his interview.
I was always the only boy on the dance team in junior high and high school, and during those years, I was bullied for being gay. The bullies would make comments in the hallway and one time, someone put gum in my hair. It got to a point where I didn’t want to go to school anymore, so I left and moved from Santa Barbara to Orange County to finish my senior year of high school. I then made the dance team at Orange Coast College and I started competing at the collegiate level.
Jinnies and Peron are accomplished dancers who made the Rams squad on their merits, not because the Rams were trying to make a statement. The same holds true with Jesse Hernandez who, inspired by Jinnies and Peron, earned a spot as a New Orleans Saints cheerleader.
“The L.A community has shown us nothing but love,” Jinnies said. “Surprisingly, the world has also had open arms. Even at the Super Bowl, we’d be in the elevator together with the football players, and the players would say, ‘My girlfriend is obsessed with you — we love you.’”
The men who have broken the barrier in cheerleading are now hearing from “young boys who are telling me that they’re going to go for their dance team auditions and be cheerleaders now,” Jinnies said.
Male NFL cheerleaders are still a novelty and they still face outdated stereotypes, but thanks to people like Jinnies, Peron and Hernandez, I bet it will be more and more common as young men see it as a viable avenue to express their creativity.