I was emotional on Jake Daniels’ behalf when on Monday he became the first male professional footballer to come out publicly for 30 years in the UK. I was amazed it was happening; we have waited three decades for a player to feel he can be himself and tell his story in the way Jake has.
There are many openly gay players in the women’s game. We have worked hard to cultivate an environment where inclusion, acceptance and diversity is key to a thriving work and performance environment. If you want to get the best out of a person, regardless of their job, they need to be able to be their true selves. We actively – individually and collectively – work hard to create that culture.
It is not down to the person coming out, it is about everyone else lifting that emotional burden from that person, so they can walk into their changing room, the pitch, wherever it is and be truly themselves and know they will be truly supported. Jake said he felt comfortable telling his story thanks to the support shown by his family. Those in the dressing room need to be that family at work.
It was fantastic to see players such as Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Ben Mee show their support for Jake when the news was announced. Being an ally, openly speaking up and showing their support for the gay community is great because these guys are role models and what they say is heard. They can help influence this conversation. They are all active participants in being self aware in their own environments – how they are communicating is influencing young academy boys in their own direct environments.
We can change the landscape within our own sport by being very aware of what it means to be a leader through actions and words. It is great they are speaking up and hopefully it encourages more players across the game to join them and if there are any negative influences they are vocally supported and they condemn those as well.
Throughout my whole playing career, I have never experienced homophobia from teammates or coaches. I’ve played in several different countries and clubs and my experiences have largely been positive. The only time I have experienced anything like that is largely from complete strangers on social media. It speaks to the culture we have created in the women’s game to accept everyone regardless of background and that is the part we celebrate. That’s part of the game we are very proud of and that’s really what it is about.
Toxic masculinity, rather than homophobia, in the men’s game stops so many young people feeling free enough to come out. It is the whole idea, as Jake referenced, that if you are gay you are weak, you are not man enough, you are not tough enough. That concept restrains and restricts young men from being out. It is used to weaponise and create that “othering” of people who are part of the LGBT+ community, whereas in the women’s game we are not dealing with that.
In the past athletes who have come out have waited until much later in life, many once they have retired, to do so. I think the younger generation are shifting the conversation and the environment and are more open to these conversations. These are the ones pushing our game forward in the best way. They have a powerful voice to share and they have the space and platform to do that. I think Jake is reflective of that and the younger generation and how much more vocal they are on so many issues.
To have so many female players in the game share their personal stories with such courage and in a way that shows them standing tall, that they are proud to tell their personal love stories and who they are, it inspires so many young women around them, including myself. I feel I belong in this space. I have like-minded people around me who think we all have a right to the game. We all have the right to be who we are. Seeing people like Megan Rapinoe, Magda Eriksson, Pernille Harder – these girls are going to consistently inspire the next generation of women to do whatever they want to do and be whoever they are. Hopefully Jake can be that figure among men.
Jake’s decision will alleviate the pressure on other athletes who want to come out, whether it is in football, golf, tennis or any other sport. I want it to be an organic process where more sportsmen can be their true selves in the open. I do not think it is about forcing or hunting out people, to find out who is gay and who is not. That sort of conversation in the past, especially in the tabloid press, was unhelpful. It is about creating the structures from within that allow that steady growth in terms of creating safe environments, where people will find the right time for themselves. There is no right time – every individual is different – it’s about how comfortable and safe they feel in their professional and personal lives to make that leap.
Thank you, Jake, for being brave and confident enough to share your story because it is far reaching and it is going to help so many individuals out there. Jake came out for himself, not anyone else, so he can be his authentic self and can perform without any kind of burden on his shoulders. We are just very lucky to be able to share in his joy and new freedom.