In 1990, Justin Fashanu was the first male professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay whilst playing.
Eight years later, he tragically died by suicide after an onslaught of homophobic media coverage. LGBTQIA+ amateur footballers, including myself, didn’t know if it would ever happen again.
Who would be brave enough to potentially subject themselves to that? This week, we got our answer.
17-year-old Blackpool FC striker Jake Daniels gave a heartfelt interview to Sky Sports where he shared that he is gay. I got a bit weepy watching it. Many of us did.
A stark difference between Jake's and Justin’s stories is that Jake was able to tell his tale on his terms when he was ready.
There are regular whispers of closeted Premier League players. So it perhaps comes as no surprise that a handful of tabloids couldn’t resist teasing the prospect of a player coming out the night before Jake’s interview aired.
Journalists clearly still need to learn about the humanity and sensitivity that surrounds a coming-out story. Jake isn’t a headline; he is a person.
Given Arsenal’s recent work to improve LGBTQIA+ inclusion at the club, I was pleased to see them quickly respond to the announcement.
The promotion I’d done for Arsenal would ring hollow if they didn’t truly understand what a watershed moment this was. Would LGBTQIA+ fans feel embraced by the sport if LGBTQIA+ players weren’t? I wouldn’t.
Arsenal will one day have an openly queer men’s team player. Unfortunately, it won’t be me – if my bottom of the league table performance this season is anything to go by.
Still, their commitments to inclusivity and support for Jake leave me optimistic that when the day comes, they will get it right.
Already, Jake’s honesty has a real impact. I am, admittedly, terminally online. So I’ve come across several “Football Twitter” accounts who’ve chosen now as their moment to share that they too are LGBTQIA+.
This subsection of Twitter is notorious for homophobic trolling – and I’ve been on the receiving end of it a few times myself.
It will have been difficult to watch your peers engage in this behaviour, knowing you too would be a target. The weight now lifted from their shoulders, assisted by Daniels, is surely immense.
Jake’s story gives me hope. Hope that my experience of giving up football at the age of 13 when I accepted I was LGBTQIA+ will not be so commonplace in the future.
Hope that other young queer men won’t have to move to a big city to play. That there will be a team that accepts them on their doorstep.
Jake Daniels has given us hope that football, finally, will be for everyone.
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