He had no idea he’d actually be selected for the team.
“When I made the decision to send in an audition video, I explained to every person I told that it was a complete long shot,” Romero recently told Outsports. “I was using it to get more audition experience under my belt.
“Never in a million years did I think this would happen. If you told me this two years ago, I would have said you’d be lying.”
Still, here he is, after coaching cheer and dance on the high school level and training at a dance studio, a cheerleader in the NFL — the first and still only male cheerleader on the 49ers’ cheer squad, called Gold Rush.
The experience has been an important continuation of Romero’s personal journey in the sport, which he says is essential to his self-expression as a person and as a gay man.
“Dance has always been my liberation, my happy place,” he said.
Having found his calling at the Sac Dance Lab in Sacramento, Romero was looking for the next extension of his dance career. He had previously coached a high school dance and cheer team with a gay dancer, whose story Outsports will post next week in honor of National Coming Out Day.
Those experiences took him to auditioning for a then all-female 49ers cheer team. He thought he had no chance.
Yet here he is, now a part of a fast-growing fraternity of male NFL cheerleaders.
Currently, the New Orleans Saints have over a dozen male cheerleaders, the Tennessee Titans have seven, as do the Los Angeles Rams, and other men officially cheer for the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and others.
A decade ago, there wasn’t a single male cheerleader in the NFL, until Napoleon Jinnies and Quinton Peron broke the mold with the Rams.
“It’s why we’re a part of the small community of male NFL cheerleaders,” Romero said. “This is the end goal for a lot of people, being able to be in a community with other male cheerleaders. Now I have friends across the league.”
While there has been an explosion of publicly out gay male cheerleaders in the NFL, the number of out players and coaches has lagged. Only player Carl Nassib and coach Kevin Maxen have come out publicly as gay men on the football side of the NFL.
“The 49ers as an organization has treated me with unconditional love. As a male on a primarily female team, I was nervous. But the staff, the fans, my coaches, my teammates, I’ve felt nothing but support.”
The one thing Romero wishes the public knew about professional cheerleaders? The level of athleticism involved in perfecting their sport.
“One thing I wish people knew is the extent to which each individual who partakes in cheer is absolutely an athlete. The time, the passion, the competition, cheer is definitely identifiable as a sport.”
The sports training includes practices, weight training and cardio on a daily basis. And now that they’re in the middle of the season, weekly games are added on top of that.
“We’re all empowered to keep up with how we eat and exercise 40 minutes a day. We need to be able to do everything we need to do on a game day.”
Those game days involve eight to 10 hours of being “on,” performing for fans whether it be at meet-and-greets, fans entering the stadium or during the game, including halftime shows.
Yet Romero’s favorite part of game days is two minutes of utter silence.
“My favorite part of game day is the National Anthem. We’re all in the end zone and it’s a sea of people, 70,000 people in the stadium. And the stadium goes completely silent. I get chills just talking about it. You get to take it all in and reflect that this is what I’m doing right now.”
You can follow Jonathan Romero on Instagram.