Jake Daniels is no more than 17 years old, but has already placed himself on the football star map. Not so much for his skills so far, although this year he has made his debut on the first team of the venerable Blackpool at level two in England, also called the Championship.
But two days ago, Jake Daniels first made headlines in England, then in the rest of the world in an interview with Sky Sports doing something as basic as telling who he really is.
Jake Daniels is a professional football player – and gay.
An all-natural combination – and at the same time bordering on unique.
For one of the sports world’s biggest puzzles is why it is obviously so extremely difficult to stand out as gay if you are a man and play football.
There are many reasons that have been discussed.
It’s easier not to
There is an inherent and ancient culture of homophobia in top football, in the tone of conversation, in the shouts and songs from the stands.
In a 2016 survey conducted by the Stonewall Foundation, which works to reduce prejudice against LGBT + people, as many as 72% of those surveyed said they had heard homophobic incitement from the stands while attending a football match.
And regardless of the praise from coaches and club leaders, regardless of attitude campaigns among players and supporters, regardless of the tribute of players like Jake Daniels, there is still a solid conclusion when it comes to these challenges:
It’s easier not to.
It’s easier to shut up and listen to the cemented tone of conversation, where a football player is a real man – and where a real man is heterosexual.
This is also what many agents advise their players to do.
And that is quickly the advice you get from your even closer surroundings. If you are gay and want to succeed, then you keep your orientation to yourself – in fear of prejudice from teammates, for reluctance of sponsors and simply in fear of losing career opportunities in clubs in countries where attitudes towards gays are directly hostile.
Missed by male role models
And then you have missed – and miss – role models. The one who stands out first.
Everyone talks about role models when discussing how to do what should be natural as a man, naturally also as a male football player.
No one has known where to find them.
For it is as with pioneers in other contexts. It costs to have to take the strain and attention by being first. Those who have come forward have almost always done so after they have posted. Like German Thomas Hitzlsperger, Swedish Anton Hysén or French Olivier Rouyer.
In Norway, Thomas Berling has been the only example. There should have been so many more.
Among female football players, on the other hand, many of them have been. In Norway, Linda Medalen and Bente Nordby were some of the first stars to appear as gays. Another is the current football president herself, Lise Klaveness. Internationally, there have been many more of them, including the American superstar Megan Rapinoe, who has used her position to fight for acceptance for both women and gays. With great luck, it is well worth adding.
The tragic forerunner Justin Fashanu
But among men, it is obviously much more difficult. The petrified picture of what a male football player can and should be takes a long time to change. In England, in 1990, the first top player who openly told his name was the one who more or less willingly took the lead when Justin Fashanu shocked the nation by coming out in an interview with the scandal newspaper The Sun. Even his brother John, who was also a professional player, distanced himself from him – and additionally admitted to having paid Justin a larger amount for not telling the public about his orientation. One week after the revelation, Brother John went out in a separate interview under the headline “My gay brother is an outcast”.
Since then, no top British players have emerged. You can only guess the dark numbers on the road. Former Manchester United star Patrice Evra has claimed that he has met so many people, who have told him in confidence that they are gay, that he estimates the number to be at least two per club. But none of them have dared to stand up. Before a 17-year-old from Blackpool, the world moves one notch further, in what the BBC calls one “Watershed”. Let’s just hope they’m right.
The only male player in a club in a top division around the world who has done the same is Australian Josh Cavallo, who told about his gay orientation in October 2021.
He told The Guardian that it was a paradox that he would never have been able to participate if he had been good enough for the Australian national team and they had qualified for the World Cup in Qatar, where he as a gay man would fear for his own safety.
A world-class football party, as FIFA President Gianni Infantino has repeatedly called it. As long as one is not openly gay, he accidentally forgot to attribute.
A farewell to the Stone Age?
Mankind came out of the Stone Age when a few thousand years ago it was understood to extract metals and melt them into tools. And it’s actually a remelting football needs. A process in which prejudices and barriers are broken down and transformed.
The latest taboo in men’s football is still so big that it is almost unbelievable.
Justin Fashanu never quite managed to cope with life as an openly gay football star. Eight years after he told about his orientation, he ended his own life in 1998.
Josh Cavallo from Adelaide United received huge amounts of positive attention from around the world after he emerged as gay. Just two months later, he was subjected to incitement from the stands in the away match against Melbourne Victory.
Here, too, we can still hope that Jake Daniels can create change. He is young and promising – and can now spend an entire career being an idol in more ways than anyone else has managed before.
In a study on sexual orientation under the auspices of Ipsos in as many as 27 countries last year, it turns out that in the age segment 16–25 years there are twice as many as in the other age groups who are older than this who defined themselves as “Non-heterosexual”. It is these young people who will now be inspired by Jake Daniels.
Hopefully it will soon finally give an openly gay male top player in Norway as well.
In the first match after Jake Daniels had told his mother and sister about his orientation, he scored four goals for Blackpool against Accrington. He described it as the result of being relieved of a heavy burden from the shoulders.
Now the 17-year-old is nothing less than a hope for the entire top international football – the boy who, regardless of orientation, would be one of the guys.