Jake Daniels: Why Blackpool player's decision to come out as gay matters

    Jake Daniels has recently broken into the first team at Blackpool, a club in English football's second tier.

    (CNN)It shouldn't matter. But it does.

    When 17-year-old Jake Daniels publicly came out as a gay on Monday, phones pinged as the UK's media raced to push out news alerts. This is a big story.
    In less than 24 hours, the young footballer has become a household name; written about on the front pages, discussed on morning television, mentioned countless times on social media, and praised by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
      "I've known my whole life that I'm gay, and I now feel that I'm ready to come out and be myself," the English footballer said in his statement.
        Until Monday, Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo was the only current openly gay top-flight male professional footballer in the world.
        Daniels is the first professional male player to come out as gay in the UK in the last 30 years, says the British LGBTQ advocacy group Stonewall.
        Justin Fashanu was the first and, until now, only active male professional footballer in the UK to speak publicly about being a gay man. That was 32 years ago. Fashanu played on for seven years but, aged 37, he took his own life.
          Daniels' courage should not be taken lightly. Men's football has struggled to keep pace with the rest of society and, sadly, in 2022, the game in the UK needed a trailblazer and a teenager who only made his first-team debut for Blackpool two weeks ago is it.
          "I am ready to be myself," said Daniels in his statement, before adding it was a "step into the unknown."
          Justin Fashanu publicly came out as gay in 1992.
          Remarkably, Daniels is he is not a seasoned professional, a player who has established himself in the game. He is a 17-year-old playing in the second tier of English football who only recently signed his first professional contract.
          He has shown leadership and strength that belies his years, though he conceded he had also made himself an easy target for society's bigots.
          It was only last month that a football fan was banned from watching live football by a British court for three years for shouting homophobic abuse at a Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Arsenal in October 2021.
          "Shout what you want," said Daniels, "it's not going to make a difference."

          Leadership

          Daniels is the player who scored four goals in a youth fixture the day after telling his mother and sister. Secrets can, after all, be a burden so the freedom to be himself off the pitch gave him the freedom to express himself on it.
          The reaction to Daniels' announcement has been positive. The world of football, its players, pundits and governing bodies at least, has united.
          Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out after retiring, said "well done" to Daniels on Twitter and former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted: "Massive respect for this brave decision."
          "Thanks for your leadership," wrote Guardian journalist Barney Ronay, former England striker Gary Lineker told the BBC that others will follow Daniels' path, while the Daily Mail wrote: "... it's hard to imagine he will be alone for long."
          Living life as your authentic self is not a privilege all enjoy, especially when living in the public eye, and so the reaction to Daniels' announcement is significant because not only will it help the player himself, but it may also encourage others to also share their stories.