Jake Daniels: Blackpool player becomes first UK professional male footballer to come out as gay in 30 years

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Daniels said he had been ‘living a lie’  (Paul Dennis/TGS Photo/Shutterstock)
Daniels said he had been ‘living a lie’ (Paul Dennis/TGS Photo/Shutterstock)

Jake Daniels made history at the age of 17 on Monday as the first male professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay for 30 years.

The Blackpool FC forward, who recently signed his first professional contract after a stellar season of goalscoring for the youth team, said: “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 is the first male professional player to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. Fashanu, who took his own life in 1998, faced a fierce backlash from football fans, and the fear of homophobic abuse has been a key reason for the lack of players following suit in subsequent years.

“I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it,” Daniels told Sky Sports. “I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all.”

Daniels said he had been “living a lie” and that telling family, friends and teammates had lifted a weight off his shoulders.

“I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay,” he said. “At that age you don’t really think that football and being gay mixes. 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’. I wasn’t ready and it was a struggle but I just don’t want to lie any more.

“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. 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.”

As the only active male player in the English professional game to be openly gay, Daniels hopes he can inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

“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,” he told Sky Sports. “I won’t stop people from saying that stuff, I just need to learn how to not let it affect me.

“I am hoping that by coming out, I can be a role model, to help others come out if they want to. 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.”

Daniels was widely praised for his decision to speak out. Former England defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “Massive respect for this brave decision. Let’s all help create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ people in football and beyond!”

His club Blackpool said: “Blackpool Football Club has worked closely with Stonewall and the relevant footballing organisations to support Jake and is incredibly proud that he has reached a stage where he is empowered to express himself both on-and-off the pitch.

“It is vital that we all promote an environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves, and that football leads the way in removing any form of discrimination and prejudice.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) added: “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.”

Liz Ward, the director of programmes at LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, said: “We are proud that Jake has felt able to share his truth with the world. To come out publicly as the UK’s first openly gay professional footballer in nearly 30 years takes incredible courage, and we’re heartened by the solidarity and support he has received from Blackpool FC and his teammates.

“Football is ready for this moment, and we believe it has been for some time. Our Rainbow Laces campaign has taught us that, while there is still a way to go, attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in sport are changing. We are moving towards a world where players can live openly as their true selves, both on and off pitch – and that is something we can all take pride in.

“Stonewall is proud to provide ongoing support to Jake, his close network and Blackpool FC to navigate the challenges of coming out in the public eye. This is an opportunity for everyone involved in football – from the players to the fans in the stands – to support Jake and show that football is everybody’s game.”

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