England footballer Jake Daniels said he is gay on Monday in a groundbreaking moment for the men’s European match.
The 17-year-old striker announced at the end of his first season as a professional player with second tier club Blackpool.
“This season has been fantastic for me on the field,” he said in a statement. “But off the field, I’ve been hiding my true self and who I really am. I’ve known all my life that I’m gay, and now I feel ready to go out and be myself.”
“It’s a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to come out with my sexual orientation.”
While women’s soccer features many notable LGBTQ+ players, the men’s professional game lacks openly gay players and appears to have hostile attitudes in the locker rooms.
At the weekend, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye was left out of the tour squad for a match in Montpellier amid reports of his refusal to wear his rainbow number jersey.
He was part of a French league-wide campaign against homophobia and the Senegal international has a strong Islamic faith. PSG did not deny the reports or make an official statement.
Inspired by Australian footballer Cavallo
Daniels said he was inspired by Australia’s Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo, the only gay man currently playing in the Premier League after the 22-year-old midfielder was announced in October.
“I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to be fit,” Daniels said. “I want to set an example myself by doing this. There are people in the same space as me who may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality.”
“I just want to tell them that you don’t have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in. Being you, and being happy, is what matters the most.”
Daniels said his Blackpool colleagues embraced his sexuality after trusting them. The North West England club said it was “extremely proud to have reached a stage where he has the power to express himself on and off the field”.
The FA said Daniels was an “inspiration” to the sport.
“This is a very positive step as we strive to build an inclusive game that we can all be proud of,” the board tweeted. “We’re with you and we hope your story helps give people throughout the game the strength and encouragement to be their true selves.”
Football in England is still dealing with trying to stamp out anti-gay chants at some games.
“If, by the way I’m out, other people look at me and feel that they can do it too, that would be great,” Daniels told Sky Sports. “If they think this kid is brave enough to do it, I’ll be able to do it too. I hate knowing people are in the same situation I was in.”
“I think if a player appeared in the Premier League, that would be great. I feel like I would have done my job and inspired someone else to do it. I just want him to rise from here. We are now.”
It’s rare in team sports for guys to declare themselves LBTQ+.
Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas was the first active rugby professional to come out in 2009, two years before his retirement, and has become an inspiration in various sports.
The first gay player in the NBA was Jason Collins while playing for the Brooklyn Nets in 2014.
One of Britain’s most prominent gay athletes is Olympic diving champion Tom Daly who inspired former England captain Casey Stoney to exit in 2014. She coaches the San Diego Wave after managing the women’s team at Manchester United.
“It must take a lot of guts and guts,” Stoney wrote on Twitter to Daniels. “Good for you to break out of the mold and be original! Wouldn’t it be nice if we got to a place where we don’t have to use the words ‘courageous and brave’ to describe someone who feels comfortable being who they are.”