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NFL female cheerleaders were once dismissed as “commodities” of the franchise and used to tantalize the likes of straight male sports fans. But as cheerleaders demanded equity and respect and after Colin Kaepernick took a knee, the NFL is reckoning with its sordid history regarding diversity and inclusion.
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That’s where Peron and Napoleon come in, who are the first male cheerleaders to join an NFL cheer squad. Now, the pair are using their platform as trailblazers to amplify LGBTQIA+ voices.
While Peron was always an athlete, he wasn’t sure that being a pro dancer was possible for him.
“I played basketball and baseball for 12 years — was great at it, but I knew it wasn’t it,” Peron told In The Know. “The minute I saw tWitch on So You Think You Can Dance, and he was a Black guy, looked just like me. He was dancing, he was jazz hands-ing, hip-hop dancing and all that stuff. That was when I was like, ‘Oh, this is it — I can do it, there’s a lane for me.'”
Peron decided to audition for the L.A. Rams on a whim. He knew some of the female dancers at the tryouts and decided to join them, not really expecting much. According to the Rams, cheerleading auditions had always been open to all genders, but Peron and Jinnies were the first men to ever show up.
“2018 was a year that changed my life forever,” Peron said. “And to think that a decision that I made on a whim would end up making history and opening the doors to so many people just like me who just wanted a place to dance and wanted a place to perform and wanted to show that, you know what, I’m a professional as well.”
Jinnies, who also works as a makeup artist, is making his mark on the Rams in his own way too.
“Being bullied at such a young age for being different,” Jinnies recalled. “[It] just made me stronger to handle all that this industry entails. So it helps me out in the long run.”
The two dancers were seen cheering from the sidelines at the 2019 Super Bowl, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
“We didn’t expect it to be as big as it turned out to be,” Jinnies said. “I think we knew it was a big deal for our dance community, but then to see the ripple effect and the reaction that the rest of the world had was amazing. And then we took it all the way to the Super Bowl that year.”
For Peron, who’s a dance teacher, being able to show his students that dreams can come true is what keeps him motivated.
“It’s so exciting for them — especially the ones that I first started with, so exciting to see those kids see the growth from when I first started dancing and choreographing one of their first solos and stuff,” Peron said. “I think that’s what keeps me going and want to keep showing that anything is possible. It’s crazy to see the journey, and just like I’ve seen their journey, they see my journey.”
Meanwhile, Jinnies’ path to the Rams has been one of self-acceptance and actualization.
“Live your authentic truth,” Jinnies said. “My youth was kind of spent, I guess, living a lie of myself, a different version of myself. It’s time not to assimilate anymore, [it is time] to be happy and inspire.”
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