Gary Lineker praises footballer Jake Daniels for coming out as gay

‘Many others will follow’: Gary Lineker praises Blackpool FC’s Jake Daniels, 17, for becoming first player to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990 – and suggests many footballers ‘have been waiting to see how it pans out for whoever’s first’

  • Blackpool FC forward 17-year-old Jake Daniels has come out as gay in a televised interview this afternoon
  • The last professional British player to come out was tragic Justin Fashanu in 1990 who came out aged 29
  • Prior to the news, the only active openly gay player in the world was Joshua Cavallo who plays in Australia

Gary Lineker said today that he expects ‘many, many others will follow’ after Jake Daniels became the first male professional footballer to come out as gay in Britain since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

The ex-England captain said other gay footballers have likely been ‘waiting to see how it pans out for whoever’s first’ and could now be encouraged to ‘follow suit’ after the decision by the 17-year-old Blackpool striker.

Match of the Day host Lineker told BBC Breakfast this morning: ‘He is going down a path that many, many others will follow – they’ve probably just been waiting to see how it pans out for whoever’s first. And I think once they see that the overwhelming majority of people will be more than accepting, others will follow suit.’

He added: ‘I think he will be massively accepted. Not just in his own dressing room but players he plays against. I think, overall, dressing rooms wouldn’t think about it. They will consider if you’re a good footballer or not. That’s all that matters.’

Daniels revealed yesterday that he had dated girls in the past to hide his sexuality but added: ‘I just don’t want to lie any more.’ Team mates had been ‘supportive’ and he brushed off the prospect of verbal abuse from the stands, insisting he would ignore it.

Fashanu, who played for teams including West Ham, Newcastle and Norwich City, came out late in his career, spanning 1978 to 1997. He killed himself in 1998. Only one other professional player – Australian Josh Cavallo – is openly gay at present. The Adelaide United midfielder went public last year.

The 17-year-old is only the second top-flight British football player to come out – after Fashanu – and he made the move in a bid to tackle the scourge of homophobia in the sport.

Daniels was ‘keen to break the stigma’ and has become the only openly gay male pro currently playing in the country, and the second in the world – after Cavallo – in a trailblazing moment for the men’s game.

Speaking with Sky News, he said: ‘I just processed and processed every day about how I want to do it, when I want to do it and I feel like now is just the right time – you know I feel like I’m ready to tell people about my story.

‘I want people to know the real me and lying all the time just isn’t what I wanted to do. It has been a struggle but now I do feel I am ready to be myself and be free and just be confident with it all.’

Daniels, described as ‘an inspiration to us all’ by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is the first Briton in the men’s professional game to come out publicly as gay since Fashanu in 1990 at the age of 29.

He told Sky Sports: ‘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.’

Gary Lineker told the BBC today that he expects ‘many, many others will follow’ after Blackpool’s Jake Daniels came out as gay

Pictured: Blackpool FC’s Jake Daniels, who is just 17 years old, has come out as gay in a televised interview yesterday

Speaking to Sky Sports (pictured above), 17-year-old Jake Daniels said he felt the time was right and he was ready to come out

The only openly gay man to have played in English soccer’s professional leagues was Justin Fashanu, who was not active at a high level when he made the announcement in 1990. The ex-Nottingham Forest and Norwich City striker was found dead at 37

Cavallo, 22, who plays for Australian team Adelaide United, came out as gay last year to then become the only out pro in the world.

Other players have come out after their careers were over, including former Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger, 40, and ex-Hull City youth’s Thomas Beattie, 35.

Male pro footballers who have come out as gay 

The first professional football player to come out as gay was Justin Fashanu who came out in 1990.

Fashanu made his pro debut with Norwich City in 1979 and played for a handful of clubs including Nottingham Forest and Brighton & Hove Albion.

He went on to become the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest.

A serious knee injury took him to the US for treatment and he played for a handful of North American sides before he returned to England in 1990. He then bounced from Leyton Orient to non-league Southall and then Leatherhead, a semi-pro club.

Later that year, he came out as gay, becoming the first prominent football player in England to do so.

Fashanu took his own life eight years later in a garage in London at the age of 37. 

He remained the only player to have competed in England’s top tiers to come out as gay until Jake Daniels’ announcement yesterday.

Josh Cavallo, 22, who plays for Australian team Adelaide United, came out as gay last year to then become the only out pro in the world.

Cavallo became the first known current top-flight male football player in the world to come out as gay in October 2021.

In an emotional and widely-praised video, he said was done with feeling ashamed about his sexuality and the exhaustion of trying to live a ‘double-life’. 

‘I’m a footballer and I’m gay,’ the 21-year-old said in the clip posted on Adelaide’s social media and in a statement posted to his Instagram page, drawing support from fellow professionals across the world.

‘All I want to do is play football and be treated equally,’ he said.

Elsewhere in the sport, one of the highest-profile male football players to publicly come out as gay since Fashanu is German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger.

In January 2014, Hitzlsperger came out as gay one year after he had retired while interviewing Die Zeit, a German newspaper.

Hitzlsperger was capped 52 times by Germany and made appearances in the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Euros.

It is a rarity in team sports for men to announce they are LBTQ+.

Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas was the first active rugby professional to come out in 2009, two years before he retired, and has become a source of inspiration across sports.

One of the most prominent gay athletes in Britain is Olympic diving champion Tom Daley who inspired former England soccer captain Casey Stoney to come out in 2014.

She is coach of the San Diego Wave after managing the women’s team at Manchester United.

Daniels, who has been with Blackpool FC since the age of seven, said he first realised he was gay at the age of five or six but thought it would be something that would change as he got older because football and being gay ‘didn’t really mix’.

He told Sky Sports: ‘I’ve had girlfriends in the past to try and make all my mates think that I’m straight and it was just a massive cover up so it has been a struggle.

‘And then in school, everyone always used to ask me ‘are you sure you’re not gay’ and it was like ‘no I’m not’ because I wasn’t ready but I just don’t want to lie anymore.’ 

After scoring 30 goals for U18 side and being named the club’s top youth player of last season, Daniels made his senior debut with the club this month in the team’s 5-0 loss to Peterborough.

The 17-year-old came on as an 81st minute substitute and is now the first openly gay active professional football player in England.

Asked if he thought it was something he had to hide, he said: ‘Yeh I think so obviously because there’s no one out that I do need to hide it and wait until I’ve retired to maybe come out but I just knew that that was such a long time of just lying and not be able to have what I want.’

Daniels said on the Blackpool club website he had been inspired by other sportsmen to reveal his sexuality.

‘It’s a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality,’ he said.

‘But I’ve been inspired by Josh Cavallo (Adelaide defender), Matt Morton (Thetford manager) and athletes from other sports, like Tom Daley, to have the courage and determination to drive change.

‘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. 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.’

Daniels was full of praise for Blackpool and his team-mates at the Sky Bet Championship club.

He said: ‘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 (Chris Maxwell) 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.’

The teenager has been widely praised for making the announcement yesterday, with fans and players congratulating him for his bravery as well as those from outside the world of football.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended Daniels on his news, tweeting: ‘Thank you for your bravery Jake, it would have taken huge courage to come out and you will be an inspiration to many both on and off the pitch.’ 

Former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand stated that he has ‘massive respect’ for Daniels’ ‘brave decision’.

Ferdinand wrote on Twitter: ‘Massive respect for this brave decision. Let’s all help create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ people in football and beyond!’.

Sky Sports football pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher also heaped praise on the teenager.

Speaking on Sky Sports News, Neville said: ‘I am incredibly proud just to see a 17 year old give that interview with that level of quality.

‘What he has just done takes incredible courage, that would seem like the unthinkable back then [15-20 years ago]. I can’t imagine how difficult that has been. It is a day of great importance for him and for English football. It is a big, big moment for football.

‘The game has not dealt with this issue well at all. We know that now it is something that is acceptable from a fan point of view but a dressing room can be an evil place…you have the initiation ceremonies, peer pressure, things like that. Imagine how it would feel for a 16-year-old going into ego-driven place like that.

 The 17-year-old forward Jake Daniels (pictured) is the only active openly gay male professional player in Britain

The world of football heaped praise on Blackpool forward Jake Daniels, pictured during his senior debut, after he came out 

Impressed: Sky Sports’ Gary Neville (pictured above) has praised Daniels and said that it is ‘a big, big moment for football’

‘It is a day of great importance for football and it takes unbelievable courage.’

Impressed with how his team have supported the youngster, Carragher added: ‘I think it is important that they see how they have gone about it.

‘That is what they will need going forward, and obviously as a player we hope he does really well. It is an example [the way the club have handled it] for going forward.’

Fellow pundit Lineker joined the well-wishers, tweeting: ‘Well played, Jake Daniels. It’s been a brilliant season for you on the pitch, and now through your bravery, off the pitch too.

‘I’m sure you’ll receive huge love and support from the football community and many others will follow your path. Good luck to you.

‘I honestly think that, aside from a few homophobic morons, football will be incredibly welcoming and enormously supportive towards a gay footballer.

‘It’s long overdue for a player to ‘come out’ even though it’s ridiculous that it’s even necessary. A footballer is a footballer.’ 

Commentator Jacqui Oatley wrote: ‘There’s so much love for @JackDaniels11’s decision to come out and it’s incredibly heart-warming.

‘To think he’s just 17 and has played barely 10 minutes of first team football yet is keen to inspire and embolden others. No doubt he will. Go Jake.’ 

Blackpool team-mate Kevin Stewart showed his support for Daniels. 

Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out as gay after his retirement, wished Daniels ‘a wonderful career’.

He wrote: ‘Well done @JakeDaniels11 Have a wonderful career! Great to see the support of @BlackpoolFC and @stonewalluk to make this possible!’.

The FA stated that Daniels is ‘an inspiration to us all’.

They wrote: ‘Jake, you are an inspiration to us all and 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.’

The Premier League stated that ‘We support Jake and believe that football is for everyone’.

The Professional Footballers’ Association also added: ‘We are extremely proud of Jake and have been working with him and his club. He has the complete support of everyone at the PFA.’

A Blackpool statement read: ‘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.’

Outside the world of football, Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended the ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ of the Blackpool footballer after he came out as gay.

Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘Thank you for your bravery Jake, it would have taken huge courage to come out and you will be an inspiration to many both on and off the pitch.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: ‘This shows real courage and bravery and will serve as an inspiration to many young people across the country. Thank you Jake. We are all with you.’ 

A host of players and clubs have shown their support for Jake Daniels, pictured, after he came out as gay this afternoon

Jake Daniels has been with Blackpool FC since he was seven (pictured for the U18 squad) and made his senior debut this year

Daniels signed his first professional contract with Blackpool in February and made his Championship debut earlier this month.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: ‘This shouldn’t need courage in today’s day and age, but it does.

‘Thank you @Jake-Daniels11 for being a trailblazer. Hope you inspire others to follow.’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey added: ‘In 2022, it shouldn’t be a big deal for a footballer to come out. But Jake Daniels’ decision really is a big deal. Huge love and respect to @Jake-Daniels11 for showing such courage and blazing a trail for others to follow.’

Amal Fashanu, who runs the Justin Fashanu Foundation to fight homophobia and racism in football, revealed in 2020 that her foundation was providing counselling to five secretly gay football stars, including two from the Premier League. 

She created the foundation in 2019 partly in an attempt to help more players come out.

Daniels, pictured during his interview, said he realised he was gay when he was just five or six

Josh Cavallo, who plays for Australian team Adelaide United, came out as gay last year to become the only out pro in the world

Commenting on the announcement this afternoon, Amal Fashanu, said: ‘The Justin Fashanu Foundation would like to commend Jake for the immense bravery he has shown today by taking this step in making his sexuality public. First and foremost this is an important moment for Jake, and it is wonderful to see that his friends and his family have been so supportive.

‘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.’

Cavallo became the first known current top-flight male football player in the world to come out as gay in October 2021.

In an emotional and widely-praised video, he said was done with feeling ashamed about his sexuality and the exhaustion of trying to live a ‘double-life’. 

‘I’m a footballer and I’m gay,’ the 21-year-old said in the clip posted on Adelaide’s social media and in a statement posted to his Instagram page, drawing support from fellow professionals across the world.

‘All I want to do is play football and be treated equally,’ he said.

Taking to Twitter, former England striker and BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker led an outpouring of public support for the player, saying he is hopeful Cavallo’s actions will ‘erase the fear others may have’ of coming out as gay.

‘It’s absurd that coming out is a brave thing to do in football,’ the former Tottenham and Barcelona star tweeted. ‘It is though, and I’m full of admiration for Josh for treading a path hopefully many others will follow.

‘I’m sure the overwhelming majority of football lovers will support him and erase the fear others may have.’ 

Cavallo said in his video: ‘There is something personal that I need to share with everyone. I am a footballer and I am gay.

‘Growing up I always felt the need to hide myself because I was ashamed – ashamed I would never be able to do what I love and be gay.

‘Coming out to my loved ones, my peers, friends, team-mates, and coaches has been incredible. The support I have received has been immense.

‘I want to show people it is ok to be yourself and play football. If anything, you will earn more respect from people [by coming out]. 

The player said his situation was ‘an absolute nightmare’, adding: ‘I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.’

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