How I Went From A Bullied Teen To The First Male Cheerleader At The Super Bowl
L.A. Rams cheerleader Napoleon Jinnies made history at Super Bowl LIII. But the road to the sidelines wasn't always a smooth one.
The following interview was told to Thatiana Diaz and has been edited for length and clarity.
I've been dancing since I was little. It took some getting used to for my dad, because I'm the youngest of two older brothers and they both competed in sports. They're black belts, so dancing with a whole squad of girls was a little bit harder for my dad to understand. I remember one day he asked me, "Are you sure you don't want to finish karate or anything like that?" But he eventually came around.
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 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. I then made the dance team at Orange Coast College and I started competing at the collegiate level.
New Kids On The Block
I dance in a show at Disneyland and two of the cast members, who cheer for the Rams, were casually talking about upcoming tryouts during our lunch break. One of the girls suggested I go, and she was taken aback when I said, "Ok." She gave me the instructions on applying, and I went home and did it. I had no idea about the rules of men trying out for NFL cheerleading.
When I walked into the audition last March and I saw Quinton [Peron] there, it wasn't a competitive moment for us. There was an instant understanding of the situation for both of us. Most auditions are high intensity — it's everyone gunning for a spot and nobody in the room is your friend. For us, it was this excitement that there were two boys there. We went into this holding hands.
After making the team, it was overwhelming announcing who you are to the entire world. We made the team Sunday night, and we got an email to appear on Good Morning America on Tuesday morning. That was the scariest part: Wondering what the reaction from the public was going to be. But the L.A community has shown us nothing but love. Surprisingly, the world has also 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."
The makeup transformation process on game day is probably one of the highlights. I remember that I did a cleaner look for the audition since I didn't want to have any distractions from my dancing and only wanted to be judged on my talent. Then, after we made the team, I definitely glammed it up even harder for games. 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. That made me even more excited for games, like, How am I going to play up the makeup with the uniform this time?
When I wear makeup, I feel snatched. I feel empowered. I feel extremely confident and like myself. I can't live without my Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz, Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter, Nars All Day Luminous Foundation, and MAC Hyper Real Glow Palette. Initially, I started wearing makeup as a way to cover up an insecurity about my skin in high school, but now I love the way it makes me feel overall and that it's an art form.
I was getting so many questions about my makeup on Instagram, so I started a YouTube Channel. There's an instant gratification when someone messages me or says they're going to try a tip and it works out. I know how makeup can make someone feel, so I love teaching it.
Taking The Stage
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."
Looking back on the last 10 months, there wasn't really time to think about the gravity of the entire situation. I was on the plane coming back from the Super Bowl in Atlanta, and I just started crying. Who knew this would've happened? Who knew that we would not only make history — especially during Black History month in February — but that we would get to inspire the world? It makes me cry every time I think about it.
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.
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. 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. So, I'll keep dancing until my body gives up on me.