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Jake Daniels: Why Blackpool forward's decision is a watershed moment for British football

I am ready to be myself – Daniels

It shouldn’t matter – and to many, it won’t.

After all, it’s 2022, and the idea that a footballer’s sexuality should be newsworthy will seem, to most people, bizarre.

“Good luck to him, and let him play” – right?

But Jake Daniels’ decision to speak publicly about the fact he’s gay is a watershed moment, both for him personally and for British football as a whole.

Why?

Because you have to go back more than 30 years, to the time of Justin Fashanu, to find the last time that an active male professional footballer in the UK felt comfortable enough to come out.

The men’s game has changed significantly since then.

Josh Cavallo, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie have all shared their stories as gay men in the sport; gay and bisexual men play regularly at a grassroots level; and it’s hard to find a club in the English game that doesn’t have its own LGBTQ+ supporters’ club.

Yet for all that progress, not a single man playing professionally in the English game has felt comfortable enough to come out since Fashanu – until now.

With just a few simple words, Daniels has changed the game.

For the first time in three decades, gay football fans can tune into a men’s match in England and see someone like them on the pitch.

Gay players can do the same, including those who aren’t out yet but may, as a direct result of Daniels’ decision, feel able to share their story.

And gay men who felt excluded from the game because of their sexuality may hear Daniels’ words and be tempted to be give the sport another chance.

Don’t be mistaken – there are still issues that football needs to address when it comes to making LGBTQ+ people feel welcome in it.

Daniels’ decision to come out won’t address the issue of homophobic chanting on the terraces, or alter the sort of policies that see major tournaments awarded to countries that criminalise LGBTQ+ people, or impact on any of the other structural and institutional issues that can make gay people feel like the game isn’t for them.

But those, perhaps, are conversations for another day.

Football is more open, more inclusive and more welcoming today than it was yesterday, all because Daniels has felt comfortable enough to be himself.

And that, truly, is something to be celebrated.

‘First sign that football is finally catching up’

Lauren Moss, BBC News LGBT and identity correspondent

There’s no overstating what a huge moment this is for the game and the LGBT community, especially with such a young player making this announcement at the very start of his career.

On this issue, football is a long way behind the rest of society and other sports, including the women’s game, where there were 40 openly gay, lesbian and bisexual players at the 2019 World Cup. Rugby got there a couple of years ago, so did cricket and athletics.

So why such a difference? Homophobia is still a big problem, with the type of language that can be used on the pitch and in the stands often brushed off as “banter”. Charities and many clubs have been campaigning for a change in attitude for years, all the way down to a grassroots level. This is the first sign that football is finally catching up.

For players and fans, increased visibility and representation will be a massive stride towards inclusivity and maybe even inspire others. After former Hull City academy player Thomas Beattie announced in 2020 that he was gay, he supported Australia’s Josh Cavallo, who then became the first current professional player to come out.

So now there are two openly gay male professional footballers. Is a stigma being broken down? Support for Daniels from his team-mates, his club and their fans could play a significant part in that process.

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