I know of at least a dozen male professional footballers who are gay. And I’m pretty sure none of them will come out while they are still playing in front of large crowds every week.
There are two fundamental reasons for this. One — which they share with anyone who believes in basic dignity and human rights — is that their sexuality is their business, no one else’s.
The other, sadly, is that the national sport — a barometer of society itself — is not yet ready to fully embrace this seismic development.
In football, when it comes to prejudice, the wheels of change turn slowly.
It was late into the 1970s before a black player turned out for England (a country that, even last week, witnessed Nazi salutes by Burnley ‘fans’ and racist abuse of players’ families at Everton).
A decade later, Rangers finally got round to signing their first big-name Catholic.
This year, 2022, sees the 30th anniversary of Linfield recruiting the ‘Dundalk Hawk’ Dessie Gorman — but also the 20th anniversary of Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon quitting international football; the outworkings of sectarian abuse meted out by ‘his own fans’ at Windsor Park.
Former England full-back Graeme le Saux, meanwhile, was relentlessly heckled on and off the pitch for being gay; he wasn’t, but he did read The Guardian, wear Pringle socks and collect antiques.
That was suffice to gestate into the deluded vitriol shamefully exemplified by Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler via what must rank as the most obscene homophobic gesture ever made in a high-profile game.
Moreover, just look at the trolling Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Kent have been subjected to — some it emanating from supposed Rangers fans themselves — after their crucial misses in last week’s Europa League final.
Oh, and a Forest supporter was jailed for headbutting Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp just for being, erm, Billy Sharp.
With that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that pro footballers are loath to ‘volunteer’ for such degradation.
In the Premier League, they’re media trained to say zilch in post-match press conferences beyond “the lads done well” or “disappointed with the result, obviously”.
Ditto their social media accounts which, in the main, are controlled by agents and public relations firms.
The hitherto unknown Jake Daniels took a courageous step last week when he became the “first current male professional footballer in the English game” to reveal that he is gay.
Unlike the late Justin Fashanu from three decades earlier, he wasn’t ‘encouraged’ to do it by the tabloid media who’d warned they were going to ‘expose’ him anyway.
And unlike 17-year-old Daniels, who is just starting his pro career, Fashanu had already made English football history as the first black player to command a £1m+ transfer fee.
Fashanu’s sexuality was well known at Forest, who’d paid Norwich that big fee for him in 1981, but The Sun’s ‘world exclusive’ came eight years after he’d left the City Ground and was semi-retired.
Daniels’ decision has been rightly praised and supported across the world but it remains to be seen if it cracks ceilings or breaks down doors.
Steven Davies was the first English cricketer to ‘come out’ during his playing career. One of the many to laud that move was Yorkshire’s Andrew Gale, who wrote: “Good role model, you are who you are, others may be more confident to come out now.”
But that was over 11 years ago, and no one in the men’s game has followed the trail blazed by Davies, widely described as the only “openly gay” English cricketer.
God, how I hate that phrase, which feels like a taunt to those who opt not to be “open” about an intensely private matter.
Daniels will undoubtedly by targeted by some neanderthals on the terraces but, unlike in Fashanu’s time, this will be quickly called out.
Fashanu, who took his own life in 1998, shortly after being accused of sexual assault by a teenage boy in the US, never encountered the keyboard warriors and other plankton that Daniels will have to deal with.
Indeed, it didn’t take long for historic, online, homophobic slurs from one of his own Blackpool team-mates to emerge.
Thank goodness similar issues aren’t prominent in the women’s game, where same-sex relationships don’t even raise an eyebrow.
Daniels has allowed himself to be adopted as a role model for the LGBTQ community after something that, in this day and age, really shouldn’t such a major story.
The guy one UK newsreader referred to as “Jack Daniels” is suddenly globally famous and in demand — but not welcome in this year’s Fifa World Cup venue Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
His wonderfully-articulated sincerity will no doubt encourage others currently coming to terms with who they are, or feeling that their sexuality means they don’t belong in male sport.
Jake’s pioneering stance is a good thing, but it also brings its own challenges and looming pitfalls.
Like everyone else in this rewarding but often unforgiving profession, he’ll want to make his name as a footballer, not “that nice young bloke who came out a few years back”.
Just look, for instance, at what Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford has been subjected to since he began campaigning for free school meals and other benefits for underprivileged people.
Unfortunately for him, the execution of that worthy cause has run parallel with his form falling off the proverbial cliff.
Coincidence? Probably, but try telling @reddevil12345678...