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Words by Simon Gage.
It takes confidence to come out successfully. Blackpool forward Jake Daniels has become the first openly gay male professional football player since the late Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 and became a hero of the LGBTQ+ community.
The fact Daniels is going public at the grand old age of 17 bodes well. Very well.
And it seems that the entire professional football community has come out, as it were, on his side. “Massive credit to you and the way your friends, family, club and captain have supported you,” said Harry Kane, captain of a World Cup team that proved themselves to be civilised, gentlemanly, sporting and modern at last year’s finals, the sort of lads who would support one of their own no matter what.
Watch now: Jake Daniels is praised as he comes out as gay
The FA called Daniels “an inspiration to us all” while Manchester United legend Gary Neville called the event “a day of great importance for Daniels and his family but also for English football. It’s a big, big moment for football.”
We have yet to see the reaction of the fans but according to Neville it’s the dressing room – “an evil place” – that was the real hurdle and Daniels seems to have sailed over that.
But the fact that Daniels is just 17 speaks to the fact that he is of a generation that simply doesn’t put up with prejudice anymore. Not to belittle the real homophobia out there, it is a generation where people come out even at school to find that their schoolmates have more of a problem with out-of-date trainers or phones than they do with someone’s sexuality or gender identity.
They came through schools plastered with LGBT campaign group Stonewall’s Some People Are Gay. Get Over It! posters – a slogan I actually came up with myself, as it happens.
It was designed to put bigots on the back foot. It argued that being gay was no longer the gay student’s problem, it was the problem of anyone not mature enough to accept it.
So, why would Daniels put up with homophobia he hopefully didn’t have to put up with at school, even if it seems he wasn’t out as a student? It can be no accident that Stonewall were instrumental in Daniels making his statement.
“I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself,” he said, his “whole life” measuring just 17 years while it took someone like Phillip Schofield, working in the glitter mines of always-tolerant showbiz until he was 57 to achieve the same.
“There are people out there in the same space as me that may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality,” said Daniels. “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.” Maybe Phillip just didn’t have a Jake to tell him that.
This is, of course, huge not only for English football but for a whole generation of kids, whether they’re into football or not. They’ve seen sportsmen like Olympic champion Tom Daley – one of Daniels' inspirations – come out and thrive, and encounter not just acceptance or tolerance (which can be pretty hard to tolerate) but love.
People love Daley for marrying an older man, knitting, having a family, turning up to the BAFTAs in ridiculous outfits. They don’t tolerate him for it, they love him for it.
It was different back in the 70s, when the age of consent for gay men was – unbelievably! – 21 and the most 'out' you could ever be was outrageous.
For myself, it was a case of rocking around a fairly tough skinhead-dominated Comprehensive school in Essex in champagne-coloured suede cowboy boots with a stack heel.
Someone started to call me the going insult for 'gay' at the time and soon realised this was clearly not going to gain traction. Anyone wearing those great boots was clearly very happy to be who they were. Confidence, you see.
Maybe even Daniels doesn’t realise what a big deal this is for his generation, what an inspiration he is for anyone who is gay but doesn’t fit into the classic, stereotypical ‘gay job’ mould. Showbiz types? Well, what do you expect? But this!
Turns out Some Professional Teenage Football Players Are Gay. Get Over It!