Thank you, Jake! Why Daniels' decision to come out can change football for the better

Jake Daniels Blackpool Peterborough Championship 2021-22 Getty

At 5pm UK time on Monday, May 16, teenage Blackpool striker Jake Daniels had around 670 followers on Twitter. By 11am on Tuesday morning, he had nearly 50,000.

While social media followings are rarely a metric by which anything useful can be measured, it is helpful shorthand here to demonstrate the pressure and attention now on a 17-year-old who only recently signed his first professional contract and has just 10 minutes of senior football in England's second division to his name.

On Monday afternoon, a statement from Daniels was published on Blackpool's website in which he announced to the wider world that he is gay, having told his family, friends and football club in the months prior.

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He wrote: "This season has been a fantastic one for me on the pitch but, off the pitch, I’ve been hiding the real me and who I really am.

"I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself.

"It’s a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality, but I’ve been inspired by Josh Cavallo, Matt Morton and athletes from other sports, like Tom Daley, to have the courage and determination to drive change.

"In reaching this point, I’ve had some of the best support and advice from my family, my club, my agent and Stonewall, who have all been incredibly pro-active in putting my interests and welfare first.

"I have also confided in my team-mates in the youth team here at Blackpool, and they too have embraced the news and supported my decision to open up and tell people.

"I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in. I want to be a role model myself by doing this.

"There are people out there in the same space as me that 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. You being you, and being happy, is what matters most."

The news followed a weekend of tabloid hints in the UK which took on a depressingly familiar format - gossipy pieces accompanied by silhouettes of footballers, with talk of how the player was so anguished at keeping this dark secret locked inside, with rent-a-quotes pining over when will we get a gay male professional player in English football.

We had seen this all before. In 2019, an anonymous Twitter account purporting to be from a Championship footballer appeared, suggesting they were about to come out as gay.

The @FootballerGay account amassed 50,000 followers, before being deleted as the user said they were "not strong enough to do this".

“I thought I was stronger. I was wrong,” read the final messages before the account was deleted.

“Call me all the names under the sun, belittle me and ridicule me, a lot will, and I can’t change that, but I’m not strong enough to do this.

"Just remember that I’ve got feelings, without coming out I can’t convince anybody otherwise, but this isn’t a hoax. I wouldn’t do that.”

All of which stands in total contrast to how the news regarding Daniels broke on Monday – a confident young man proudly showing his face to the world, speaking with remarkable eloquence for someone aged only 17 about something so personal, yet which matters so much to millions of people and to the wider sport.

Credit must go to those who handled the news with tremendous care.

Blackpool released their own statement under Daniels' news, firmly illustrating their support and admiration for their player.

Sky Sports News, who had the first video interview with Daniels, did not place it on their gaudy yellow breaking news ticker, showing impressive sensitivity and restraint.

It is notable that Stonewall – Britain's leading LGBTQ+ rights charity, which is currently involved in a messy tribunal over accusations it has supposedly abandoned its commitment to support gay and lesbian people in favour of transgender rights – has been hat-tipped by Daniels as key in creating the space and the support he needed to come out.

It is entirely possible that Daniels will not make it at the highest level of football.

He has a solid record at youth level, while his only professional minutes so far came on the final day of the 2021-22 regular Championship season, coming on as a late sub as Blackpool were hammered 5-0 at already relegated Peterborough.

That much is largely irrelevant now, though, for Daniels has already made an incredible impact on football for the better.

It was always likely to be a younger player who would be the first since Justin Fashanu in 1990 to come out as gay, as the current generation of footballers rejects the fear and bigotry of previous generations.

Current top England players, from Jordan Henderson to Conor Coady have spoken proudly of their support, their status as LGBTQ+ allies.

It also represents a societal shift in the UK.

Between 1988 and 2003 in England, a series of laws named Section 28 prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities, most notably schools.

It caused many LGBT+ student support groups to close, limit or censor their activities. It helped push the notion of being LGBT into the shadows, something to be ashamed of, something to be mocked.

Daniels was born in 2005, and so has grown up in the world where he can be more comfortable and supported in the fact that there is nothing wrong with being gay.

It is not something you admit to, or have to hide, even in men's professional football. Not any more.

Now, however, the hard work starts.

Daniels can now spend the off-season with his family and his club, concentrate on his football, and prepare for the start of the 2022-23 season. What happens after is less under control.

Daniels namechecked Josh Cavallo in his statement, the Adelaide United defender who is the only current top-flight male footballer to be out as gay.

There was an outpouring of support for the 22-year-old after his news - but then came the abuse.

When Adelaide United faced rivals Melbourne Victory in the A-League on January 8, Cavallo was targeted with slurs, chants and abuse during the game.

Victory were subsequently fined $5,000 AUD (£2,650), with Football Australia saying the money will be used to “further invest in LGBTQ+ awareness and education initiatives” in the sport.

The abuse continued online, with Cavallo subjected to death threats which are being investigated by police.

It led the young man to post an emotional message to social media, calling for an end to the abuse and for online platforms to do more to stamp it out.

He told GOAL earlier this year: "At the time, I was disappointed, but now I see this as a learning moment for everyone to grow.

"As a professional athlete, no matter what sport you're in, it does affect you, it does get to you and it isn't a nice feeling.

"But I want to create awareness and show that it isn't ok to do that, no matter where you come from or what your beliefs are.

"We have children at these games, we have families, so we want to make it a respectable environment for everyone."

There must also be some caution from the tale of Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 was the last male player active in English professional football to come out.

A large factor in the 32 year gap between Fashanu and Daniels was the horrific homophobic abuse the former Norwich and Nottingham Forest player was subjected to regularly, from the stands and in the media.

He was rejected by notable figures within the game, from his Forest manager Brian Clough, to his own brother, former England international John Fashanu.

Fashanu took his own life in 1998, amid allegations of sexual assault which were never proven.

You do not have to scratch far below the positive reactions, to have a quick surf around social media, to find attitudes among many have not changed since the early 90s.

It is likely the comments under this article will be restricted, in an attempt to keep the trolls bricked under their bridge.

Yet there is so much more to be positive about regarding Daniels' news, and the incredible verbosity he has demonstrated in sharing it.

As someone who is a football journalist, a fan of the beautiful game, and in the LGBTQ+ community, it was awesome to see my messenger apps exploding with joyous, scarcely believing texts.

It was surreal, almost an out-of-body experience, to see a English male professional footballer speaking about their homosexuality, and doing it so well.

Whatever happens next for Jake Daniels – personally or professionally – he has already done so much.

Thank you, Jake.