The first out male cheerleader of the National Football League -- and one of only three male cheerleaders in the entire league -- spoke to Refinery29 about his difficult childhood, embracing makeup, and performing at the Super Bowl.
Napoleon Jinnies, who dances at Disneyland, auditioned for the L.A. Rams squad on a lark; a fellow Disney dancer and Rams cheerleader suggested he try out. Jinnies nailed his March audition and was hired along with Quinton Peron, another male dancer (a third male cheerleader was hired about the same time for the New Orleans Saints). Jinnies said he and Peron were not competitive with each other and actually held hands when they walked into the audition.
Jinnies says his current success is a far cry from his childhood in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he was bullied relentlessly for not only dancing, but being gay.
"The bullies would make comments in the hallway and one time, someone put gum in my hair," Jinnies told Refinery29. "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."
Fellow cheerleaders and players and staff of the Rams have been supportive of Jinnies and Peron, allowing them to experiment with their looks.
"Quinton and I get everything the girls get, even if we don't necessarily need it, like press-on nails and lashes," Jinnies said. "That made me even more excited for games, like, How am I going to play up the makeup with the uniform this time?"
Performing at last week's Super Bowl -- where the Rams battled unsuccessfully against the New England Patriots -- was an unforgettable experience. Jinnies cried on the flight back from Atlanta, but not because of the Patriots' victory.
"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. "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."