Proud to play and be gay: Jake Daniels and the out footballers who deserve our respect

“Here is a rainbow for your hair. Here is another sign of the times.” — Bryan Ferry

Happy National Coming Out Day because being content and comfortable with yourself is something that everyone deserves.

Despite liberal social attitudes towards LGBT+ issues in many countries, there is still only a tiny number of professional male athletes in team sports who feel they can be fully open about their sexual identity.

A handful of high-profile examples recently in soccer, rugby and ice hockey around the world give some hope that attitudes are changing.

When Jake Daniels came out in May 2022, the Blackpool FC player became the first openly gay top-tier soccer player in the UK in three decades, since Justin Fashanu in 1990 in fact. Which just happened to be the same year Liverpool-born Swedish player Glenn Antonio Hysén shuffled on to this mortal coil, the cub-sexy defender admirably declaring his out and proudness in 2011.

Unlike Fashanu, who was pushing thirty and in footballing terms the twilight of his career, what makes Daniels’ announcement so courageous is he’s a mere sapling at 17 — an age where I and many others were struggling to admit to myself I wasn’t heterosexual, let alone the world.

The fact that Jake decided on this path when the only previous example is a man who committed suicide accused of sexually assaulting a person the age he is now is testament that this kid has balls of steel.

To put his youth into context, on the day he was born — 8 January 2005 — David Bowie was celebrating his 68th birthday, Stephen Hawking his 73rd and Shirley Bassey her 78th.

The Coronation Street actor and LGBT rights activist Charlie Condou was also marking his 32nd birthday, but the less said about him the better (ahem).

Happily, the teenager was supported by his teammates, sponsors, colleagues, club management and owners in a move that might turn out to be a watershed in the European football league. Interestingly, in his statement on Blackpool’s website, Daniels named Josh Cavallo, manager Matt Morton and diver Tom Daley specifically as making his own journey easier. 

Melburnian Cavallo plays for the Australian soccer team Adelaide United and very boldly came out at 20 years old in 2021. 

Although he forgot to mention Andy Brennan, another Aussie who came out in 2019 (though he’s not currently in the A-League so technically considered semi-professional), others in the future will undoubtedly namecheck Jake Daniels in a similar way. It’s a watershed moment.

With a fraternal feeling in the air, things have started to change.

Liberty, equality, freemasonry and all that. Mountains are being climbed.

Across the pond, San Diego Loyal’s Collin Martin came out in 2018, making him at the time the only out man in any of the big five American sports leagues or any top-division professional men’s national soccer leagues. 

Las Vegas Raiders hulk of a defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player in history to come out in 2021. 

In September, Gala Fairydean Rovers forward Xander Murray also became the first openly gay senior football player in Scotland.

And that should make them feel incredibly proud, because my goodness they deserve to. 

What with many of the most popular England national team players like Jack Grealish, Jordan Henderson and captain Harry Kane sporting rainbow armbands or laces during International games, I can only conclude that it’s one small step for a gay man, one giant leap for mankind.

Step in, step out of the rain.

Steve Pafford

BONUS BEATS: 

Every silver lining has a cloud, right? Just a couple of months ago there was a hoo-ha over seven players for the Manly Sea Eagles refusing to wear rainbow pride-themed jerseys for a NRL match against the Sydney Roosters. The club announced the intent behind the one-off jersey was to “support the advocacy and human rights pertaining to gender, race culture, ability and LGBTQ movements,” though the mainly indigenous/Tongan/Samoan/blah blah blah Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley were reportedly opposed to wearing the jersey due to ‘religious‘ beliefs. Unsurprisingly, with seven players down they lost the game at the Brookvale ground that I often passed on my way to Warringah Mall.

Of course, it would have to be my local team for most of the time I‘ve lived in Sydney, and Manly the area of the Northern Beaches where 34 years later — thirty-four! — NSW police are yet to solve the appalling gay hate murder of Scott Johnson at a scenic North Head cruising ground. You couldn’t make it up. A bit like when your pussy decides to take Uber passengers as Jake Daniels is giving his big set piece interview…

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Steve Pafford
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