Why Jake Daniels’ coming out story matters

The Blackpool player’s story was brave… and Jake Daniels will inspire others too.

A few years ago I decided to produce a documentary for my master’s degree project at Sheffield University. It was to be on the topic of LGBT rights, exploring why there were no openly gay professional football players. The piece itself looked at different explanations: from the nature of the game to ‘banter’ taking place on and off the pitch. I had the pleasure of speaking to many informed interviewees who had their own views and opinions on the subject.

I decided to pursue the topic because I was genuinely interested in why a sport so loved did not have any openly gay representation. In any of these discussions, it’s always important to be sensitive, though. There should be no pressure on an individual to identify in a particular way or come to a conclusion about themselves before they are ready or before they want to make something so private about themselves known. General reporting, however, around football and LGBT representation is warranted given the sport’s impact and influence, particularly on young people.

The crux of the matter

Earlier this week, Jake Daniels, a professional football player for Blackpool, told Sky Sports News that he was gay. He is now the only active professional football player in the UK who identifies in this way. He follows Josh Cavallo, an Australian player who came out last October, and Justin Fashanu, who was the first professional player to openly come out. Even though Jake Daniels is only 17, his decision will help all LGBT people – no matter their age. It will inspire and build confidence in other football players. This as well as fans, supporters and those not remotely interested in the game but who have seen his story, who want to be themselves but fear the response of others.

And it comes shortly after the success of the hit Netflix show, Heartstopper. Starring Kit Connor and Joe Locke, the show follows two schoolboys who fall in love with one another. One of them is open about his sexual orientation while the other is working out his identity. It charts the strains of concealing your relationship when you’re not open to others about your sexuality. I, personally, really enjoyed this programme. It has helped to highlight what young life is like for LGBT people and what allies and those who don’t identify as LGBT can do to help make situations comfortable for their LGBT friends, colleagues and acquaintances. 

What next?

So, it’s been a good few weeks for LGBT representation. Jake Daniels’ brave decision and the phenomenon of Heartstopper have helped to show LGBT people exist and they matter. For those still struggling with their identity, take your time. Don’t think you have to adhere to labels. Don’t think you have to tell everyone. It’s your life and you should be able to live it on your terms.