Don’t Say ‘Who Cares’ — Blackpool Player Coming Out Is A Big Deal

Blackpool’s Jake Daniels is the first male footballer in England to come out in more than 30 years.

I can already see the responses on our Facebook page.

“Who cares?”

“Stop pushing your woke culture.”

“If you want to be gay, why do we have to hear about it?”

Here’s why you should care.

Blackpool forward Jake Daniels announced he is gay on Monday, becoming the first active male professional British footballer to do so since 1990. The last to do so? Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide eight years later. 

Daniels is a 17-year-old who scored 30 goals for the Blackpool youth side and signed his first professional contract this season. 

“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,” Daniels said. “I asked myself if I should wait until I’ve retired to come out. No other player in the professional game here is out.

“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.”

Daniels follows in the footsteps of a small group of players before him who have come out and in doing so faced abuse from soccer fans. The more male athletes who come out, the more it will be normalized and the less abuse they will receive as soccer fans realize they are just regular humans trying to live their lives, not others to hate. 

Fashanu was England’s first million-pound Black footballer in 1981. In his long career, he played for Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Southampton, Manchester City, West Ham, Newcastle and even the Los Angeles Heat. In 1990, he became the first professional English footballer to come out as gay. In doing so, Fashanu was subjected to vile abuse from opposing fans. Even his own coaches spewed homophobic epithets at him

Eight years after coming out, Fashanu hanged himself. Suicide is a major problem in the LGBTQ+ community, especially in youths, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender counterparts. 

After Fashanu, few male athletes came out. Basketball player Jason Collins was the first active player to come out in the U.S., and he was followed by Robbie Rogers in MLS

Last year, Matt Morton of non-League Thetford Town came out in England and Josh Cavallo became the first openly gay A-League player in Australia. It didn’t take long for fans to subject Cavallo to homophobic abuse. There have been a few other gay male footballers in Europe, but many, like former Premier League defender Thomas Hitzlsperger, came out after retiring. 

Women’s soccer fans are typically more accepting of LGTBQ+ athletes, and indeed many of the game’s biggest stars are proudly out, including Megan Rapinoe, Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder. Quinn became the first openly transgender Olympian (and gold medalist) last summer for Canada. There is still progress to be made (Jaelene Daniels once turned down a USWNT call-up because of Pride jerseys), but because of the number of prominent women’s soccer players who are out, there’s a normalcy and culture of acceptance not seen in the men’s game.

Just this weekend, PSG midfielder Idrissa Gueye refused to play for personal reasons, reportedly because he did not want to wear rainbow-colored uniforms.

“Off the pitch I’ve been hiding the real me and who I really am,” Daniels said on the Blackpool website. “I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself.

“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.”

Daniels is an up-and-coming player for Blackpool, currently in England’s second tier. On Tuesday, he signed a deal with adidas. Daniels spoke about the mental anguish he faced as a closeted player. He said coming out to his family allowed him to play more freely.

“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,” Daniels said.

The immediate response to Daniels’ announcement has been largely positive. Clubs across England, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, tweeted support for Daniels. It’s worth noting both Blackpool and Sky Sports News, which told Daniels’ story as part of his announcement, knew about it for months without leaking the news. 

“We are extremely proud of Jake and have been working with him and his club. He has the complete support of everyone at the PFA,” the Professional Footballers’ Association said in a statement. “The whole football community must continue to work to make our game an environment where all those involved feel safe and supported, and where they feel comfortable when choosing how to tell their own stories. Our message to anyone in the game who is thinking about a similar, extremely personal decision is simple — whatever you decide, and however you choose to move forward, we are here for you.”

The true test of acceptance will come during the 2022-23 season, when Daniels is a first-team, senior-level player for Blackpool, traveling to play in play at clubs around the country where fans may not be so receptive. Millwall fans have booed anti-racism messages; how will they react to Jake Daniels existing as a gay footballer?

“It’s an easy thing for people to target,” Daniels said. “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.”

It doesn’t help that FIFA has a questionable history with homophobia. While the organization has targeted federations like Mexico’s for its fans using homophobic chants, FIFA has also decided to hold its premier competition, the World Cup, in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal and many hotels will not allow LGBTQ+ fans to buy lodging

Whenever The18 posts anything about LGBTQ+ players, our Facebook page is hounded by people spouting falsehoods about LGBTQ+ rights, including those who still try to claim being gay is a lifestyle, not an inherent part of who someone is. Our audience is proof there remains a large number of vocal men’s football fans who are bigots, who have yet to realize or refuse to recognize LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. 

Many will undoubtedly cry about covering a gay athlete as being too “woke” — curious how the term is only used as a boorishly derogatory term these days — but the fact Daniels felt safe enough to come out at all is progress. The fact the response is predictable shows there is still a long way to go.

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