The youngster has made history in the professional game after a brave interview
Blackpool striker Jake Daniels has become the only openly gay active professional footballer in Britain.
The young forward made the historic step in an interview with Sky Sports news aged just 17-years-old having signed a professional deal with the Seasiders earlier in the season. Daniels made his first-team debut on the final day of the Championship side at Peterborough United and has now felt the time is right to become the first active footballer to open up about being gay.
Former footballer Justin Fashanu become the first active gay professional footballer in the 1990’s and now Daniels has followed in his footsteps. He has touched on the importance the support of his football club has had in this moment as well as the support he has had within the Blackpool dressing room.
“Now is the right time to do it. I feel like I am ready to tell people my story. I want people to know the real me,” Daniels said.
“I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all. 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.
“I’ve 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.
“Since I’ve come out to my family, my club and my team-mates, that period of overthinking everything and the stress it created has gone. It was impacting my mental heath. Now I am just confident and happy to be myself finally. I first told my mum and my sister, who I live with. “Yeah, we already knew,” was how they reacted.
“Then we told my whole family and at this point I was quite scared because I didn’t know how the older generation might react. I needn’t have worried. I’ve had so many messages saying, “we are proud and we are supportive.” It’s been amazing. I couldn’t have wished for it to go better. The day after I told my mum and sister, we played Accrington [in an under-18s fixture] and I scored four goals, so it just shows how much of a weight off the shoulders and what a massive relief it was.
“And Blackpool have been absolutely amazing too. I am with them every day and I felt safe. My team-mates have all been so supportive about it and everyone has had my back. They’ve been asking tons of questions, they have all been intrigued and their reaction has been brilliant. It’s the best thing I could have asked for.
“Of course, everyone was kind of shocked in a way and they were asking why I didn’t tell them earlier. That was a great reaction because it showed how much they cared. The captain was one of the main people I told and he also asked me loads of questions. In the end he just said, “I’m just so proud of you”. It meant so much.
“I like it when people ask questions. I just want to get it all out and for people to hear my story. It’s been quite a crazy year. I’m 17. I’ve signed a professional contract. I’ve scored 30 goals this season and I’ve just made my first team debut in the Championship, coming off the bench against Peterborough. And now I have decided to come out.
“Everything has happened at once but it feels right. When this season started, I just wanted to prove myself as a player. I think I have. So this was the one last thing in my head that I knew I needed to do. Now it’s out, and people know. Now I can just live my life how I want to and you know what? It’s been incredible.
“The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men’s football is still a taboo. I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity. And people see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field.
“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. It’s an easy thing for people to target. The way I see it is that I am playing football and they are shouting stuff at me, but they are paying to watch me play football and I am living my life and making money from it. So shout what you want, it’s not going to make a difference.
“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. I hate knowing people are in the same situation I was in. I think if a Premier League footballer does come out that would just be amazing. I feel like I would have done my job and inspired someone else to do that. I just want it to go up from here. We shouldn’t be where we are right now.
“I know that every situation is different and that there are a lot of different factors for other people to consider that will scare them a lot, especially in football. And if you think you are ready, then speak to people. I know that’s such a hard thing to do, it was a hard thing for me to do, but just speak to the closest people around you, you are going to get support you need.”
Blackpool’s support for the player has enabled him to feel the freedom to make this bold step and they spoke of the work with Stonewall in a 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.”