A 17-year-old’s courage broke one of football’s biggest taboos

The nervous shaking of legs, the clasped hands: small details that form “a great football moment”, as Manchester United legend Gary Neville called it. Jake Daniels, a 17-year-old Blackpool striker, has broken a taboo seemingly impossible to even scratch: he has publicly declared his homosexuality, becoming the first active British pro footballer to do so since the very distant 1990 and tragic existence of Justin Fashanu.

“Now is the right time to do it. I feel like I am ready to tell people my story. I want people to know the real me. I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all”, he says at the beginning of a long and emotional interview with Sky.

The inside of a locker room, the orange-mandarin uniforms of the ‘Seasiders,’ the tension that becomes freedom word after word, breath after breath. Daniels’ testimony is a moment of simple, complex social-sports history: “I can’t really put a date on it, but I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay. So it’s been a long time that I have been living with the lie. At that age you don’t really think that football and being gay doesn’t mix”, an assumption that cannot be disproved. Because Daniels’ young and direct words frame one of the darkest sides of the football universe: the universe of dominant masculinity, of all-encompassing machismo.

A legacy constantly fed by media that keep narrating the achievements of the football star-latin lover and sublimating the captain-top model or influencer dualism, handing down, scoop after scoop, the obligatory association between footballers and heterosexual icons. “You just think, one day, when I’m older I’ll get a girlfriend and I will change and it will be fine. But as you get older you realise you can’t just change. It doesn’t work like that. I did have girlfriends in the past, to try and make all my mates think I was straight, but it was just a massive cover-up. In school people even used to ask me: “Are you sure you aren’t gay?”. And I would reply, “no, I’m not”. For a long time I’ve thought I would have to hide my truth because I wanted to be, and now I am, a professional footballer. I asked myself if I should wait until I’ve retired to come out. No other player in the professional game here is out. The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men’s football is still a taboo. I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity. And people see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field.I am hoping that by coming out, I can be a role model, to help others come out if they want to”.

The noble intentions of this brave 17-year-old immediately found support from his teammates, other clubs and the FA, as well as the admiring endorsement of many colleagues, including former German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who declared himself shortly after retiring.

The hope, now, is that this wave of solidarity may open the door to many more similar testimonies, may stimulate even high-ranking players to lay down artifactual masks and to educate, through the courage of the truth, the new generations to an inclusive football: “I am only 17 but I am clear that this is what I want to do and if, by me coming out, other people look at me and feel maybe they can do it as well, that would be brilliant. If they think this kid is brave enough do this, I will be able to do it too. I hate knowing people are in the same situation I was in. I think if a Premier League footballer does come out that would just be amazing. I feel like I would have done my job and inspired someone else to do that. I just want it to go up from here. We shouldn’t be where we are right now. I know that every situation is different and that there are a lot of different factors for other people to consider that will scare them a lot, especially in football. And if you think you are ready, then speak to people”.