PLANORAMA Editor in Chief, Zach, looks at the story of Jake Daniels, the first active male professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay in over 30 years.
"I hope that in sharing who I am, I can show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community."
Those are the words of Australian professional footballer, Josh Cavallo, who in October of 2021, made international headlines by publicly declaring that he was gay - an incredibly significant moment for the sport as he is the only openly gay male footballer playing professional top-flight football.
Many LGBTQ+ people will remember their own coming out process, and most would agree that making such a public announcement would be their worst nightmare - but for Josh, and football as a sport, and as an institution, it was incredibly important.
Cavallo’s wish that he would spark a cultural change in football appears to have begun, with Blackpool youth player, Jake Daniels, becoming the first active male professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay in over 30 years at only 17 years old. Daniels personally cited the Australian as the influence behind his own decision, and since the two have become committed to aiding those in the sport who want to do the same.
They are also keen to send a message to the next generations of players:
"I struggled to find someone to look up to... [and say]: 'Oh, he's successful, and he's gay, and he plays football.' That's something I didn't have growing up."
With sexuality so marginalised within men’s football, the presence of successful role models will no doubt have a monumental impact on how being LGBTQ+ is perceived within something as hetero-sexually dominated as football.
Daniels will play a pivotal role in British football and recognises the immense burden that will come from such a simple announcement of his personal identity. He follows in the footsteps of Justin Fashanu, who was the UK’s first ‘out’ professional footballer but met a tragic ending as he was ostracised by both the press and his own family before taking his own life at just 37 years old.
Admittedly, 30 years have passed between the eras of Fashanu and Daniels’ announcements, however, while the general acceptance and embrace of sexuality has seen great progress, unfortunately, the microcosm of football, its media, and its fans, has not.
As recently as 2019, 80% of those interviewed in a survey by ‘Outsport’ were recorded as having witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport, with 50% saying this had come at a live football game.
Similarly, 50% of LGBTQ+ males and 35 of LGBTQ+ females said they had been personally targeted at games. This does not even begin to discuss the prominence of transphobic slurs and discrimination that persists just as much too.
Just 37% of fans think that football is a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, while disgracefully, over 20% of other interviewees said they had no problem at all with the discriminatory culture and abuse of LGBTQ+ fans.
As I discussed in a similar article this time last year, there are many reasons why football lags so far behind, but players like Cavallo and Daniels will hopefully at least be able to tackle one of them.
Research into homophobia in football shows that it often stems from the ‘feminine’ assumptions of homosexuals. Thus, homophobic slurs or accusations that someone is playing ‘like a sissy’ or ‘like a girl’ are inherently linked to the same misogynistic issue. This of course raises concerns about football’s institutionalised sexism too, but one step at a time eh….
Over time, therefore, this culture has developed the assumption that because of this, gay people simply can’t play football. Of course, they can’t, if their bodies are only as 'strong' as a woman’s then how on earth could they? This point of view is laughable, but sadly all too prominent within the culture. Sport, in general, is still struggling with the fact that athletic ability is not determined by gender, as we see all too often with the toxic, transphobic debates about participation in sport at both youth and professional levels.
But for football, this still also includes being gay. That it somehow makes you inferior, both in your ability to play and support the game. It is only through people like Cavallo and Daniels that these false assumptions can be directly challenged. The fact that Daniels is the only ‘out’ current professional does not mean that he is the only gay British man playing professional football, it just means that the rest are not disclosing their identity.
Of course, each person is entitled to handling their identity and its publicity individually, but hopefully these recent instances will give those close to having the confidence to publicly own their identity, a much-needed push in the right direction.
Similarly, it will prove that being gay means nothing when it comes to one’s ability to play football. In the last season, Daniels made his first-team debut at 17, scored 30 goals for the youth team and signed his first professional contract for Blackpool FC - not bad for a gay trying to play football huh?
It would be premature and naive to say the end is in sight, I must be realistic and say that, truthfully, football still has a long way to go with its acceptance and embrace of the LGBTQ+ community. But it is these important milestones that are the catalyst for change.
In the past week, 2 professional Scottish football referees have also come out as gay, again citing Cavallo and Daniels as their inspiration. Hopefully, this will be the generation that sees the proper, and deserved, evolution of football culture, finally bringing it into the 21st century.
Published Online: 15/09/2022