Earlier this week, footballer Jake Daniels took a huge plunge and came out as gay to the world.
At just 17 years of age, the Blackpool star has become a beacon of hope for other LGBTQ+ individuals in men’s football. While his bravery is something beautiful to behold and certainly a moment to celebrate, it only highlights the sad reality of how difficult it is to simply be yourself.
Your sexuality should be no more of a personal statement than the colour of your eyes or a blemish on your skin. It is an integral part of who you are and yet, even in 2022, a young individual like Daniels needed such a huge backing behind him before he publicly came out.
The Blackpool forward made his announcement with the help of his club, Sky Sports, and Stonewall. Daniels had already told his family and friends that he was gay and admitted that he “needn’t have worried” about their reactions. The following day, he scored four goals for Blackpool in an Under-18s fixture.
While Daniels was pleasantly surprised with the positive reception to his news, the doubt was still planted in his mind. A society that can often be so cruel and unyielding had already made him believe that he would be rejected.
With this damaging assumption that is heavily ingrained in the minds of many, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people choose to keep their sexuality hidden.
The chasm in visibility
Campaigns like Rainbow Laces help make a statement about queer inclusion in men’s football, but until more players feel comfortable enough to be open with their sexuality, the visibility remains extremely limited.
The chasm between men’s and women’s football when it comes to queer representation is, and always has been, astronomical.
Female football stars and their fans have created a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ individuals over the years, where being your true self is not just accepted, but celebrated.
A moment between Chelsea stars Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder was celebrated during the 2019 World Cup, and it propelled the couple into the spotlight.
UEFA Women's Player of the Year @PernilleMHarder and partner Magdalena Eriksson made headlines for this kiss in 2019.— UEFA (@UEFA) December 30, 2020
🎬 In 𝗢𝗨𝗧𝗥𝗔𝗚𝗘𝗗, Harder and other top stars discuss the homophobic, sexist and racist abuse they have suffered, and why it has to stop.#EqualGame
The two were snapped sharing a kiss after Sweden beat Canada to reach the semi-finals and the photo went viral. To this day, it remains an iconic image and one that is often referred to as a major beacon for LGBTQ+ visibility in sport.
It was a moment of such simplicity and one that neither player was even aware of at the time. Eriksson was simply celebrating a win with her partner — there was no active attempt to make headlines and become global icons.
It is this normalisation of same-sex relationships that has made women’s football such a safe space.
Manchester City captain Steph Houghton discussed Daniels coming out and applauded him for the huge step he has made.
“I think it’s unbelievable what he did, the way that he spoke and his honesty. I think it was very, very powerful,” she told GiveMeSport Women.
“There are a lot of female footballers that have come out and allowed people to be themselves within our game. So for me, it’s an unbelievable step in the right direction for him. To come out and do that at the age of 17 is very impressive.
“We want to be part of a game where everybody can be themselves and feel comfortable.”
When will men’s football ‘be ready’?
Daniels is only the second professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay. Justin Fashanu was the first back in 1990, and while his bravery will forever be remembered as a landmark point in history, it’s important to also highlight the devastating details that come with his story.
Fashanu was known by his early clubs to be gay. This included Nottingham Forest, whose £1 million transfer bid made him the first Black player to command such a fee.
Former Forest manager Brian Clough himself revealed in his autobiography that he had a confrontation with Fashanu over rumours that he had been frequenting gay bars in Nottingham, or as Clough described it, “that bloody poofs’ club.”
Even Fashanu’s brother John recoiled. He said Justin would have to “suffer the consequences” for coming out and that he “wouldn’t like to play or even get changed in the vicinity of him”, as told by John’s daughter, Amal Fashanu.
After a breakdown in his relationship with his family and unfounded allegations of sexual assault in the US, Fashanu took his own life in 1998.
The lack of support for Fashanu when he needed it most is devastating, and progress has been extremely slow, even after the world learned of his death. It took 32 years after he came out as gay for another male player to follow in his steps. That’s 32 years too long.
We almost had a breakthrough in 2019, when an anonymous Twitter account under the username ‘The Gay Footballer’ intended to come out as gay.
The account user claimed to be a player in the men’s Championship, stating he had told his friends and family and would be revealing his identity to the public. However, a day before the promised announcement, one final tweet was posted to the account’s almost 50,000 followers before the profile was deleted.
“I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.”
Speculation swirled over whether it was simply a Twitter troll or if a Championship player had really been looking for a way to finally tell the world who he is.
An accidental role model
These instances demonstrate how significant the coming out of Jake Daniels really is. His actions could help men’s football reach the same levels of inclusivity and acceptance seen in the women’s game but that is a huge load to carry on such young shoulders.
After coming out, Daniels has become a role model, whether he intended to or not. His announcement was for nobody but himself, but in the process, he has made a huge statement and broken 32 years of silence.
There will certainly be no immediate change, but hopefully this can be the start of a fairer, more accepting chapter in men’s football.