Earlier this month, Napoleon Jinnies made history as one of the Super Bowl's first male cheerleaders, alongside his Los Angeles Rams teammate Quinton Peron and New Orleans Saints' Jose Hernandez. Jinnies, a former Disney dancer, described his path to the Super Bowl in an interview with Refinery 29, saying it was "overwhelming announcing who you are to the entire world" after making the team.
But the road to the Super Bowl was a long one, and as a child Jinnies was the sole boy on his dance team, misunderstood by both his family (his father asked him if he wouldn't rather do karate) and his peers. "I was bullied for being gay," he explains. "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." Jinnies eventually went on to dance competitively in college before landing a job at Disney and the rest is herstory.
Jinnies says the LA community has shown he and Peron "nothing but love" and that the rest of the NFL has been "surprisingly" supportive. "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 cheerleader, who also has a YouTube channel dedicated to makeup, describes the team's glam process as one of the best parts of his job. "It never really crossed my mind if my advisors would have a problem with me wearing this full, blown-out smoky eye. My coach never looked at me or treated me differently from the girls. Quinton and I get everything the girls get, even if we don't necessarily need it, like press-on nails and lashes." Getting to experiment with his look has made games even more exciting. "How am I going to play up the makeup with the uniform this time?"
Jinnies, who is now starring in Abercrombie & Fitch's new Fierce cologne campaign, says that the response from the Super Bowl has been inspiring. The cheerleader has received "messages from young boys who are telling me that they're going to go for their dance team auditions and be cheerleaders now. I have older men who are saying that they were cheerleaders and that they're excited to be living through us. There are men now going for cheerleading positions on other NFL teams across the country."
"It's more than just me and Quinton, and we know that," adds Jinnies. "Gender should never be the issue: If you have the skill, the nerve, and the drive to do it, you should be allowed to."