Blackpool forward Jake Daniels has been praised for his courage after the 17-year-old became the first active male professional footballer to come out as gay in the UK.
Daniels is the first Football League player to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990, and follows Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo, who came out as the only gay male top-flight footballer in the world back in October.
Daniels made his league debut at the weekend on the final day of the Championship season at Peterborough.
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“Off the pitch I’ve been hiding the real me and who I really am,” he said in a statement on Blackpool’s 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.”
Daniels cited Cavallo and Olympic diving champion Tom Daley among his inspirations for revealing his sexuality.
He added: “It’s a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality, but I’ve been inspired by Josh Cavallo, Matt Morton and athletes from other sports, like Tom Daley, to have the courage and determination to drive change.
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“In reaching this point, I’ve had some of the best support and advice from my family, my Club, my agent and Stonewall, who have all been incredibly pro-active in putting my interests and welfare first. I have also confided in my team-mates in the youth team here at Blackpool, and they too have embraced the news and supported my decision to open up and tell people.
“I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in. I want to be a role model myself by doing this.
“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. You being you, and being happy, is what matters most.”
He added to Sky Sports News: "I can't really put a date on it, but I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay. So it's been a long time that I have been living with the lie.
"At that age you don't really think that football and being gay doesn't mix. 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."
Blackpool added in their own statement: "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 said the player has their “complete support”, while EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: "Coming out publicly in professional football will have taken great courage and I have huge admiration for Jake Daniels' decision to do so. This will no doubt serve as an inspiration to people everywhere and Jake has the full support of the EFL.
"As our national sport, football has a huge role to play as we seek to promote equality of all forms. We hope that this moment helps take us forward to a time where LGBTQ+ representation at all levels of the men's professional game is the norm.”
A day of great importance for English football - Neville
"I was incredibly proud just to see a 17-year-old be able to actually do an interview of that level of quality," ex-Manchester United captain Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
"I would not have been able to do that in my mid-twenties or late-twenties. What he has just done took incredible courage. We have been in dressing rooms for many, many years and that would seem like the unthinkable to announce that you are gay. I can't imagine how difficult that has been.
"It is a day of great importance for Jake and his family but also for English football. It will go down in history. It is a big, big moment for football players. It is of massive importance, this.
"I was on the PFA management committee probably 15 to 20 years ago now whereby this was a major talking point, a major issue at management committee meetings that we did not have a player comfortable enough to come out and say they were gay.
"How do we deal with this? How do we address this? The game has not dealt with this issue well at all. I think it is just about getting good with dealing with this issue from a fans' perspective."
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