Making history! Justine Lindsay is the NFL’s newest star — and the season hasn’t even started yet.
The 29-year-old dancer joined the Carolina Panthers’ TopCats cheerleading squad in March, making her the first openly transgender cheerleader in NFL history.
“Cats Out the Bag you are looking at the newest member of the Carolina Panthers TopCats Cheerleader’s @topcats as the first Transgender female,” Lindsay wrote via Instagram after joining the team. “I would like to thank the beautiful and talented dancers who supported me along the way alumni TopCats family and friends for your love and support. I would not have gotten to this moment in my life if it wasn’t for the support.”
Chandalae lanouetteDirector of the TopCats, Claude, stated BuzzFeed News that Lindsay had noted on her application that she’s trans, but it was her talent that landed her a spot on the squad. “My goal is to create a team of individuals that are absolute fire on the field but are incredible human beings in the locker room, good friends, good people, and at the end of the day, you have to walk through the door first to get to that spot,” Lanouette explained in an interview published on Saturday, June 4.
The NFL isn’t a league known for its progressivism, and its cheerleading squads are no exception. A report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport showed that 69 percent of NFL players in 2020 were Black, but a similar survey estimated that only 17 percent of the league’s cheerleaders were Black. There are no rules that ensure that cheer squads are staffed with diverse candidates.
Cheerleaders also spoke out about the strict beauty standards maintained by the squads. They often value traditionally white features. Hair-whipping, for example, is often a major part of choreography, but not every person’s hair texture allows them to achieve the same kind of effect.
Lindsay was concerned that Lindsay’s baldness would pose a problem but her coach allowed it to be kept. Now, she’s pleased that she can “inspire other young girls who may be insecure rocking their bald look.”
She is also proud that she represents a major milestone for the NFL, cheerleaders all over the world. “This is big,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I think more people need to see this. It’s not because I want recognition. It’s just to shed light on what’s going on in the world.”
Continue scrolling to learn five things about Lindsay.