Earlier this month, 17-year-old Jake Daniels, a forward for Blackpool FC in England’s second tier, came out publicly as gay in a statement released by the club. According to the British LGBTQ advocacy group Stonewall, Daniels is the first professional player to come out in the UK in the last three decades.
“I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and now I feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself,” said Daniels in his statement.
“In reaching this point, I’ve had some of the best support and advice from my family, my club, my agent, and Stonewall, who have all been incredibly proactive in putting my interests and welfare first,” Daniels adds. “I have also confided in my teammates in the youth team here at Blackpool, and they too have embraced the news and supported my decision to open up and tell people.”
Though Daniels is fortunate to be surrounded by a strong and supportive network of close family, friends, and peers, his courageous decision to come out was difficult.
“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,” Daniels reveals in an interview with Sky Sports News. “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.”
Though he struggled internally, he says that his mental health improved significantly once he came out to his family, club, and teammates. In his words: “I want to be a role model myself by doing this.”
The LGBTQ community still faces discrimination and hardship in professional sports. How Daniels’ club and support network have responded with love and acceptance is a step in the right direction.
Hopefully, others who may find themselves in similarly traditional masculine spaces will be emboldened by young Daniels’ story—and, perhaps more importantly, that we are all inspired to create a judgment-free space, wherever we may be, to support and encourage those around us who may be grappling with the decision to come out, even if we don’t know it yet.