Napoleon Jinnies, who recently became one of the first male cheerleaders to perform at the Super Bowl, has spoken about the homophobic bullying he endured for being a gay dancer.
Alongside teammate Quinton Peron, Jinnies became the first man to cheer for a team at the Super Bowl on February 3, having joined the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading squad at the start of the 2018 season.
The pair’s history-making inclusion was not referenced at all in the Super Bowl broadcast, but the two dancers received a lot of love from fans.
Cheerleader Napoleon Jinnies: I was bullied for being gay
In an interview with Refinery29, Jinnies revealed that as a teen he faced years of anti-gay bullying because of his passion for dance.
He said: “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 cheerleader added: “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.”
Jinnies later made the dance team at Orange Coast College, competing at the collegiate level before landing a job dancing in a show at Disneyland.
Napoleon Jinnies: We were welcomed with ‘open arms’ at Super Bowl
Jinnies auditioned for the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading squad in March 2018, where he met Peron for the first time.
The pair each earned a spot on the squad, and have gone on to cheer for the Rams at subsequent NFL games as the team made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Speaking about performing at the event, he said: “The Super Bowl is one the biggest stages in the world — I don’t think it gets bigger than that.
“I remember looking at the ground and taking my first steps onto the field, and that was the moment it hit me. I didn’t need the applause, I didn’t need the audience to roar, it was a silent moment and I said, ‘This is it.'”
He added: “The world has 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.'”
Young boys ‘inspired’ by male Super Bowl cheerleaders
Jinnies added: “We have gotten 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.
“Gender should never be the issue: If you have the skill, the nerve, and the drive to do it, you should be allowed to.”