ake Daniels has been hailed as “an inspiration” after becoming the first active male professional footballer to come out as gay in 32 years.
The Blackpool forward on Monday released a statement in what has been described as an “historic day” in English football, with Gary Lineker and England captain Harry Kane leading the tributes.
Not since Josh Fashnu in 1990 has an active male footballer come out, with former Leeds player Robbie Rodgers in 2013 confirming his sexuality shortly after retiring only to then play on in MLS for LA Galaxy. Five years later, also in America, Colin Martin came out as gay while playing for Minnesota.
Reacting to the news, Gary Lineker told BBC: “I think he’ll be massively accepted. Not just in his own dressing room but players he plays against.
“Overall, dressing rooms wouldn’t think about it. They will consider if you’re a good footballer or not. That’s all that matters.”
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of the game’s anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out, hailed Daniel’s bravery and underlined the importance of supporting the 17-year-old.
“The bravery Jake has shown today will hopefully go some way to showing that men’s football is becoming an environment in which LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and comfortable to be their authentic selves,” Burnett said.
“We now have a renewed responsibility to him and the LGBTQ+ community at large to work with all clubs and stakeholders to ensure that he receives the right support now, and that the infrastructure is in place to ensure that he can continue on his footballing journey like any other 17-year-old.
“This is a big story, and an historic day in English football, but we need to remember that there is a young man at the heart of it. A young man who should not have to be defined by this one moment, or this one part of his identity.
“We wish Jake a long and successful career in football. He has our full and unwavering support.”
Tottenham striker and England captain Kane added, on Twitter: “Massive credit to you [Jake Daniels] and the way your friends, family, club, and captain have supported you. Football should be welcoming for everyone.”
Liz Ward, the director of programmes at LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall, said the sport was “ready for this moment”.
I think he’ll be massively accepted. Not just in his own dressing room but players he plays against
She added: “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.”
Former West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out as gay shortly after his retirement, wished Daniels a “wonderful career” and said he was glad to see he had the support of his club and Stonewall to make the announcement possible.
The Football Association said Daniels was “an inspiration to us all” and added: “We fully support your decision to be open about this part of yourself. Football is a game for all, with diversity at its heart, and this is a hugely positive step as we strive to build an inclusive game that we can all be proud of.
“We are with you and we hope your story will help to give people across the game the strength and encouragement to be their true self.”
Daniels is the first Briton in the men’s professional game to come out publicly as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990. Amal Fashanu, founder of The Justin Fashanu Foundation, hailed Daniels’ “immense bravery” and hopes his announcement will prove a turning point for players.
She said: “If my Uncle Justin were alive I know he would have been one of the first people to have contacted Jake to offer his support and best wishes. Justin’s wish was to create a society where people could simply be kinder to one another and where bigotry doesn’t exist.
“Jake’s announcement will come as a huge comfort to the many footballers at all levels of the game – from grass roots to the professional leagues – still secretly living as gay and who still feel unable to come out.
“I truly hope this announcement marks a turning point and that other footballers, who wish to do so, feel they can talk more openly about the life they lead off the field.
“The sad reality is there is still a lot of homophobia in the game, at all levels. Until the authorities take firm and more decisive action I am concerned many players will continue to live in secret, wrongly believing they have something to be ashamed of.
“Homophobia in the game needs to be treated with the zero tolerance approach racism rightly receives. Only then may we see more players, like Jake, willing to step out of the shadows – and live the life they truly wish to.”
Additional reporting by Press Association.