17-Year-Old Professional Footballer Hailed After Coming Out as Gay

Jake Daniels, who plays for Blackpool FC, said it was a “massive relief” to come out. He is the first openly gay male professional footballer in the UK in 32 years.
jake daniels gay footballer
Jake Daniels playing for Blackpool earlier this month. Photo:  Lee Parker - CameraSport via Getty Images

A 17-year-old is being inundated with congratulations and hailed for his bravery after he became the UK’s first openly gay male professional footballer in more than three decades.

Support has been huge across every social media platform, with politicians, sports stars, and LGBTQ campaigners all coming forward to congratulate Blackpool’s Jake Daniels and celebrate the landmark moment.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Daniels told the world how teammates at his Championship – second-tier – club were supportive of him making this huge move, and he said he hoped he would be a role model to others. 

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"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," he said. 

“However, I knew that would lead to a long time of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life that I want to."

He added: "The day after I told my mum and sister, we played Accrington (under-18s) and I scored four goals, so it just shows how much of a weight off the shoulders and what a massive relief it was.”

There is still no openly gay male player in England’s top football tier, but there was, once – and his story ended in tragedy.

The first was Justin Fashanu, a Black gay footballer who started his career at Norwich City. He was hugely talented: He was the first Black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee, and one of his goals is still considered one of Norwich’s best ever.

But after coming out in an interview with the Sun newspaper in 1990, Fashanu was cut off from his family, shamed for embracing his sexuality by his colleagues, and hounded by the British press. 

Nearly a decade after coming out, Fashanu killed himself. He wrote in a suicide note: “Being gay and a personality is so hard.”

Fashanu’s brother, John – who was also a professional footballer – admitted offering Justin £75,000 to not come out publicly, telling the Daily Mirror: "I begged him, I threatened him, I did everything I could possibly do to try and stop him coming out.”

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He added: “Had he come out now, it would be a different ball game. There wouldn’t be an issue, but there was then. Things are different now. Now he’d be hailed a hero.”

Justin Fashanu pictured in 1981. Photo: Allsport UK /Allsport

Justin Fashanu pictured in 1981. Photo: Allsport UK /Allsport

LGBTQ fans and campaigners will be closely watching whether the British media, football officials – and football fans – can do better this time. 

"The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men's football, is still a taboo,” Daniels said in his Sky Sports News interview. “I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity.”

"People see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field. Of course I am aware that there will be a reaction to this and some of it will be homophobic, maybe in a stadium and on social media.

"The way I see it is that I am playing football and they are shouting stuff at me, but they are paying to watch me play football and I am living my life and making money from it. So shout what you want, it's not going to make a difference.”

Last year I interviewed Liverpool captain and England footballer Jordan Henderson, asking him about Australian footballer Josh Cavallo who had just come out as gay and made headlines internationally.

“If any of the players came out, it wouldn’t change any perception of anything within that changing room,” Henderson said.

Henderson said that professional footballers across the UK were ready to support any LGBTQ colleagues. Speaking of Cavallo, he said: “They'll feel inspired by it for sure. Whether or not they feel as though they can follow in his footsteps is another thing, but all we can do is try and support that as much as possible. I can only reiterate that that will be 100% the case for me personally and from all of my teammates that I play with.”