NFL Cheerleader Napoleon Jinnies: 'I Was Bullied For Being Gay'
A classically trained dancer, Jinnies became a member of the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading squad for the 2018 season. He and teammate Quinton Peron caught the eye of sports and performing arts aficionados when ― along with the New Orleans Saints’ Jesse Hernandez ― as the NFL’s first male cheerleaders.
Jinnies and Peron then saw their public profiles rise exponentially when their team made the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Atlanta, and the two joined their female counterparts to cheer on the Rams’ losing effort against the New England Patriots.
In a new Refinery 29 interview, Jinnies opened up about his personal and professional journey, recalling the adolescent anguish he experienced growing up as a gay boy who preferred the dance studio to the athletic field.
“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 California native, who also dances in a number of live shows at Disneyland, recalled. “The bullies would make comments in the hallway and one time, someone put gum in my hair.”
Noting that it “got to a point where I didn’t want to go to school anymore,” Jinnies said he eventually opted to transfer high schools. He didn’t stop dancing, and began doing so competitively as a student at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California.
Making the Rams cheerleading squad in March 2018, he said, was an “overwhelming” experience in more ways than one, but especially since he and Peron weren’t sure “what the reaction from the public was going to be.”
Turns out, they had nothing to be concerned about.
“The L.A community has shown us nothing but love,” he said. “Surprisingly, the world has also had open arms.”
These days, Jinnies says he is “so happy” to have been given a “platform to inspire, especially in a world right now that’s a little chaotic and a little darker than it should be.”
“It’s more than just me and Quinton, and we know that,” he said. “Gender should never be the issue: If you have the skill, the nerve, and the drive to do it, you should be allowed to.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.