The news that footballer Jake Daniels has come out as gay is a massive leap for men’s football, and society overall.
When Jake Daniels told the world he was gay, it was the first time in more than 30 years that a male, playing professional footballer had made such an announcement. Let that sink in.
In those three decades we’ve seen the World Health Organization declassify same-sex attraction as mental illness, our first openly gay members of Parliament and the House of Lords, the armed forces admit gay recruits, the age of consent lowered to 16, and marriage between same-sex couples legalised.
So, the overriding reaction to Daniels’ news was a collective: “finally”.
In the UK sports arena, we’ve seen Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas and Olympic diver Tom Daley come out as gay, but not one male professional football player since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Daniels’ news may be a small step in most corners of society, but it’s a giant leap in footballing terms.
Putting to one side the fact that this really shouldn’t even be a thing, it was an impressive and brave decision on the Blackpool player’s part – particularly as Daniels is only 17 years old.
Despite the efforts of clubs, football governing bodies and fan groups (such as the brilliant Pride in Football) to stamp out abuse and make the game more inclusive for all fans and players, the risk of homophobic abuse from a minority on the terraces has remained.
Demonstrating both courage and calm, Daniels proved mature beyond his years as he articulated how he didn’t want to lie any more about who he was – that he was ready to be himself, free and confident, and what a massive relief that was.
His handling of the situation has been admired universally.
The fact that it is such a poignant and newsworthy moment for UK football is a sad reflection on how fear of abuse on the terraces has meant the sport is still behind when compared with society.
But it will have an important impact. We’ve seen first-hand through our Heads Up campaign (which used football to reduce the stigma attached to male mental health) that it only takes one player to initially speak up, to inspire others.
This creates a house of cards effect where traditional taboos can be broken down very quickly. It’s certainly time this one was.
The importance of a footballer taking this stance is that football has always been able to impact wider culture. Its ripples are felt far and wide. And so it was that we saw other sporting bodies, athletes and wider celebrities all expressing their support for Daniels.
While I’m sure the commercial impact of his announcement was never a consideration – looking at it from that perspective (given that we work in the commercial side of sport) – Daniels’ profile and commercial stock will rocket.
It’s highly likely he’ll be in demand for ambassadorial deals for brands wanting to demonstrate inclusion and positive social impact. The potential is there for him to become men’s football’s poster boy for inclusion – the beautiful game’s very own Tom Daley.
However, while there may well be demand, it will be Daniels’ decision how much he wants to continue to be a figurehead and how much limelight he wants as an LGBTQ+ sporting role model.
Like most footballers, I’m sure he’ll want his sporting skills to be what people think and talk about the most. There should be no pressure on him to do anything more than he has already done.
Hopefully, one day, male footballers’ sexuality won’t make the headlines at all.
We will get there eventually, but in the meantime, we should applaud the trailblazer Daniels – he has done a brilliant thing.
Published by Campaign