Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels announced on Monday that he is gay, becoming the United Kingdom's first professional male soccer player to come out since 1990.
Blackpool FC released a statement from Daniels on Monday alongside a message from the team that it is "incredibly proud that he has reached a stage where he is empowered to express himself both on and off the pitch."
"I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself," Daniels wrote. ... "I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in. I want to be a role model myself by doing this.
Daniels, 17, signed his first professional contract and made his debut with Blackpool's top team earlier in May after thriving as a goal-scorer with the club's youth team. Blackpool plays in the English Football League Championship, the UK's second-tier league after the Premier League.
Per The Independent, Daniels is the first professional male soccer play to come out as gay in the UK since Justin Fashanu did in 1990. Fashanu played for several teams in the UK and overseas and was the first professional British soccer player to announce that he was gay. He took his own life in 1998.
Daniels wrote in his statement that he hoped to provide solace to others who may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality.
"There are people out there in the same space as me that may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality," Daniels wrote. "I just want to tell them that you don’t have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in."
Daniels also discussed his decision with Sky Sports, telling the publication that he's known since he was five or six years old that he was gay. He said that he had had girlfriends in the past and the he was ready to be done "living with the lie."
He said that his family was supportive of his announcement but that he anticipates backlash on the pitch and on social media.
"The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men's football is still a taboo," Daniels said. "I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity. And people see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field.
"Of course I am aware that there will be a reaction to this and some of it will be homophobic, maybe in a stadium and on social media."
Sky Sports published statements of support for Daniels from several organizations and their leaders, including the Premier League, EFL and the Professional Footballers Association.
"We support Jake and believe football is for everyone," the Premier League statement reads. "Clubs and communities are stronger when everyone feels welcome, on and off the pitch. It's up to all of us to make that happen, which is why we should all speak out against discrimination and in support of the LGBTQ+ community."