Jake Daniels says he is overwhelmed by the love and support he has received in the days since the teenager became the UK’s first active male professional footballer to come out publicly as gay.
On Monday, 17-year-old Daniels told Sky Sports he felt now was the right time to tell his story at the end of a season where he scored more than 30 goals and made his professional debut in the Championship.
The positive response to his announcement has been uplifting for the Blackpool forward, who took to Instagram to express his gratitude.
“I’ve taken some time away these past few days to digest everything that’s happened and collate my thoughts,” he posted. “I’ve been overwhelmed by all the messages of love and support I’ve received. It’s been incredibly touching.
“I just want to say a massive thank you to @blackpoolfc for everything over the past few months – you have been incredible.
“To my family and friends for giving me the strength to continue to move forward in my life. I owe you so much.
“To @skysports_tim for giving me the confidence to be me – your understanding and sensitivity throughout all of our time together was immense.
“And a big thank you to (Leeds businessman) @terrygeorge for his generosity and for looking after me for the last few days.
“I wake up this morning proud of what I’ve done, but even more proud to be part of such a welcoming and supportive community.
“Together we can end the stigma and move football forward.”
Klopp: Football will support Daniels
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp says he was proud of Daniels for taking the brave step to come out in public.
“Fantastic. When I saw him talking I couldn’t believe he was 17 years old.
“The whole football community will support him. Whatever we can do. I don’t know him but I’m really proud of him. I’m really happy for him.”
Prince William: Hopefully Daniels will help break down barriers
Prince William, the president of the Football Association, also tweeted his backing for Daniels on Tuesday afternoon.
He wrote: “Football should be a game for everyone.
“What Jake has done takes courage and will hopefully help break down barriers that have no place in our society.
“I hope his decision to speak openly gives others the confidence to do the same.”
Football has a place for everyone’
Daniels cited Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo, the only current top-flight male professional footballer to come out as gay, as an inspiration behind his decision to speak out, a point the Australian said was a “wonderful feeling” after learning of the news.
He said: “As myself and Adelaide United prepare for the A-League Semi Final, I want to stop and take a moment to acknowledge Jake’s announcement and say how very proud I am for his bravery! It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that my story has helped guide Jake to be his true self.
“It’s touching to see the millions of people that my story has impacted and inspired around the world, and to see it help evolve the world game at all levels, is fantastic. This world and the game of football has a place for everyone. Love always wins.”
Grealish: A ‘massive step forward’
Manchester City forward Jack Grealish says Daniels’ decision to come out is a “massive step forward”.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Grealish praised Daniels for revealing his sexuality after “such a long time of lying”.
“I think it shows a lot of courage and no one can disagree with that. I think it’s absolutely brilliant and it’s a massive step forward,” he said.
“I think now, fingers crossed, for everyone that can be a big step forward because football is for absolutely everyone.”
Rodgers: Another real step forward | Vieira: It shows that things are improving.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers said: “It was another real step forward, not just in football but society in general.
“For Jake, I’m sure he’ll have woken up this morning feeling liberated and free to get on his life as he wants to. You’ve seen the reaction from many people around sport – football has been developing for many years and for Jake and other young people that do want to come out, hopefully this can be the start of that.”
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira added: “I think it takes a lot of courage to come out and express himself. The support that he has received so far from football and society in general has been really positive. It just shows that the world is improving. It’s good and if that can be a positive example, that is good.
“Football is not different from our society. We are in a better place than 30 years ago and it’s always difficult to just put football inside a box because it reflects our society… although there is still a lot to do.
“Education is the base of respecting each other. Of course, the power of the game allows us to educate the majority of the people. We can use football to promote education. There’s still a lot to do and hopefully in the next couple of years, we will be in an even better place.”
Jones hopes Daniels encourages rugby players to come out
Reaction from the sporting world was not confined to football, either. England Rugby head coach Eddie Jones praised Daniels and said he hoped it could provide an inspiration for rugby union, where there have been similarly few openly gay players.
“The first thing I’d do is congratulate [Daniels] for being so courageous and brave, because the first person who does it then opens up the opportunity for other people to do it,” he told Sky Sports News.
“He should be congratulated, and if he encourages a rugby player in a similar situation to do it, we’re thankful to that player.”
‘We’ve not had a moment like this in a generation’
Liz Ward, the director of programmes at Stonewall, Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ human rights organisation, has described this as “such a special moment for all of us who love the game”.
“What a moment,” Ward told Sky Sports News. “I think my cheeks are actually in pain from how much I’ve been smiling over the last few days.
“We’ve not had a moment like this for a generation, and I think the last time that this happened, the world was in a different place, and football was in a different place.
“To be able to sit here and talk about this brave, fantastic 17-year-old kid – who is fantastic at football, by the way – being able to live his true self and free to be himself in the world of football is such an important and special moment for all of us who love the game and society.”
How Morton helped Daniels: Jake the inspiration, not me!
Daniels was inspired by Matt Morton, a player-manager for ninth-tier Thetford Town, before deciding to come out publicly after seeing his own story of being an openly gay man in football.
But Morton, who offered support to Daniels in the months leading up to his coming out, says it is the teenager who should be praised for the bravery he has shown this week.
“I’m not the inspiration, he’s the inspiration,” Morton told Sky Sports News. “He’s a 17-year-old kid who’s had the courage to come out on national television, having just signed a professional contract, and announce to the world that he’s gay.
“He’s completely inspirational on a completely different level to me. I’ve been talking to Jake almost daily, more recently probably weekly, since the early part of this year when he contacted me via Instagram.
“It’s been fantastic trying to help Jake just by way of him seeing my story, being able to relate to that, contacting me, and then spending the last few months leaning on me with every question under the sun that you can imagine to get his own head around this and make his own decision on his coming out or not as the case may have been.”
‘Daniels will be an inspiration for many others’
DCMS committee chair Julian Knight MP added: “Jake Daniels has shown huge courage in telling his story and will be an inspiration for many other players and fans who sadly feel they can’t be themselves in a game that should be for everyone. That it has taken more than three decades since the last male professional footballer in this country felt comfortable enough to do so suggests a continuing culture of homophobia in football that is horrendously out of step with modern times.
“The Committee previously called for changes to the Football Offences Act to make homophobic abuse a criminal offence. Jake’s brave act can now act as a watershed moment for those in charge of the game and provide a new catalyst for driving out the prejudice faced by LGBT people on the pitch and in the stands.”