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  • Paul Usher

The bravery of Jake Daniels

Ever since Jake Daniels, the 17-year-old newly-professional footballer, came out, I haven’t been able to stop discussing it with people.

It’s startling the conversations I’ve had about bravery regarding this matter: whether he is brave or isn’t? Should people using the term ‘brave’ ask themselves why they feel he is brave? What are they doing to create a world in which it would be redundant to use the word brave in this context? Who has the right to judge? Is it only other members of the LGBT+ community? If it’s others, then are they aware of LGBT history and the context within which Jake Daniels' announcement exists? If not, why not? And finally, sadly, the amount of homophobia that has been directed towards both Jake Daniels and anybody championing him on social media.

Fortunately, I have seen lots of posts and comments supporting Jake. It has to be said the mainstream media have not only been supportive but have seemingly gone out of their way to try and make sure the coverage is nothing but positive and sensitive. That in itself is a humongous step forward.

The media, within my lifetime, have treated coming out like a crime and even relished the act of outing someone without their consent. They have previously admonished, belittled and bullied anyone who dares not to live a life of shame for their sexuality. There are, unfortunately, too many examples to name. Therefore, I am hugely grateful for the progress we have made.

However, it is all too obvious that the reason it was headline news around the world was because of how rife homophobia still is. It may be unspoken or even unacknowledged on a conscious level, but we all know it, otherwise it quite simply wouldn't make the news bulletins.

Jake is the ONLY out professional male footballer. It is staggering. Statistically, there will be a lot more, all of whom have stayed in the closet (publicly speaking) in order not to get berated and assaulted from the stands of football stadiums. That is despicable. Why should homophobia be allowed to prevail? To keep people in fear? To keep people repressed? Any expression of love, which, after all, is the greatest trait we as humans have, should be celebrated not oppressed.

There does seem to be a very vocal minority who go out of their way to spread derision at his coming out announcement and, for seemingly no good reason - these people gain nothing by doing so. It’s simply spreading hate for hate's sake. It is they who I have heard say that Jake isn’t brave; that ‘soldiers are brave, not him’.

Luckily, bravery isn’t a finite commodity and therefore, thankfully, more than soldiers can show it. In this case, in the face of homophobia that is still rife throughout the footballing world, it is brave for Jake to come out - knowing all the backlash he could potentially face.

It may be just over 30 years ago, but it should be noted that the first (and last) male professional footballer to come out, Justin Fashanu, committed suicide after coming out. This should be an eternal stain on anyone who contributed to the homophobia he faced. When that is the only comparable person and situation for Jake to look to, then it is obviously brave to do what he has done.

Thankfully, times have changed. It’s not lost on me that Jake is 17 and one of the likely reasons he feels he is able to come out is because he was not exposed to things like Section 28 whilst in education, that we now have equal marriage and same-sex love stories within mainstream programming. It’s taken a long time to get here; a lot of fighting by lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people of all races and religions. We’ve still got a long way to go until we can genuinely question whether announcing one is gay is brave or not.

Until homophobia, hate-crimes and prejudice are a thing of the past, it will always be brave and I couldn’t be prouder of Jake. Even I was subject to homophobic abuse on social media for championing what Jake had done. Other athletes will be inspired by his integrity, he will have made it easier for others to come out and he will have allowed people who feel rejected by the prejudice of the footballing world to be able to get involved in sports - whether as a supporter or as an athlete.

It gets better.

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