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Jake Daniels: Why Blackpool striker’s decision is a game changer for British football

It shouldn’t matter — and for many, it won’t.

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

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

but Jake Daniels’ decision to speak publicly about being gay is a turning point, both for him personally and for British football as a whole.

Why?

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

Since then, the men’s game has changed a lot.

Josh Cavallo, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie have all shared their stories as gay men in sports; gay and bisexual men regularly play grassroots games; and it’s hard to find a club in English football that doesn’t have its own LGBTQ+ support club.

But despite all that progress, not a single man playing professionally in English football since Fashanu has felt comfortable enough to come out – until now.

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

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

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

And gay men who feel excluded from sport because of their sexuality might hear Daniels’ words and be tempted to give sport another chance.

Make no mistake – there are still issues football needs to address when it comes to making LGBTQ+ people feel welcome.

Daniel’s decision to come out will not address the issue of homophobic singing on the terraces, change the nature of policies by which major tournaments are awarded to countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ people, or affect other structural and institutional issues, these can make gays feel like the game isn’t for them.

But those might be conversations for another day.

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

And that really needs to be celebrated.

“First sign that football is finally catching up”

Lauren Moss, BBC News LGBT and identity correspondent

Can’t overstate what a huge moment this is for the game and the LGBT community, especially when such a young player is making this announcement at the very beginning of his career.

On this issue, football lags far behind the rest of society and other sports, including women’s football, which had 40 openly gay, lesbian and bisexual players at the 2019 World Cup. Rugby came along a few years ago, as did cricket and athletics.

So why such a difference? Homophobia is still a major problem, with the type of language that can be used on the pitch and in the stands often being dismissed as “banter”. Charity organizations and many clubs have been campaigning for a rethink for years, right down to the grass roots. This is the first sign that football is finally catching up.

For players and fans, increased visibility and representation will be a big step towards inclusion and maybe even inspire others. After former Hull City Academy player Thomas Beattie revealed he was gay in 2020, he said supported Australian Josh Cavallo, who then became the first current professional player to come out.

So now there are two openly gay male soccer players. Will stigma be broken? Support for Daniels from his team-mates, his club and their fans could play an important role in this process.

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