We should all applaud a teenager making a stand just by being himself out loud

Jake Daniels is the football hero I needed when I was 17. 

Back then I was playing football for Wingate & Finchley’s youth team.

I’d like to think I was a decent squad player in what was possibly the first all-Jewish team to win a regular youth league. 

Thinking about how I was navigating my life and identity at that age, it was humbling and inspiring to watch 17-year-old Jake Daniel’s interview as he became the UK’s first male professional footballer to come out since 1990.

I was six when Justin Fashanu came out and 13 when he ended his life.

I’ve heard disgusting homophobic chants and recoiled from the salacious way the press splashed rumours about gay footballers across the front and back pages. 

If you’d have asked the six or 13-year-old me if I’d play football for years and follow Spurs to Barnsley, Burnley, and Madrid, I might have said no. 

As a young boy who had mainly girls as friends and who enjoyed drama and dance, I didn’t think football was for me. 

Even as I played the game while still being in plays, I was never certain I belonged in a dressing room or on the terraces. 

So much has changed in men’s football to make people like me feel safe and welcome. 

LGBT+ fan groups, Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign and the work of Jon Holmes and Sports Media LGBT+

Male footballers have come out after retiring or leaving the UK.

This season, two young players have come out at the start of their careers – Joshua Cavallo in Australia’s top fl ight and, this week, Jake Daniels for Championship side Blackpool. 

This week, hearing Daniels describe the support of his family, friends, team-mates and club, and seeing support from the EFL, Premier League, PFA and FA, and – especially for me – from England captain Harry Kane and fellow Spurs player Eric Dier, it really felt like a historic moment for football.

It felt like a historic moment, too, for fighting homophobia, and for tackling ugly prejudices within our beautiful game. 

Visibility matters. 

Representation matters. 

Support from communities and institutions matter. 

It is commendable how sports journalism has changed and the sensitivity of Tim Thornton’s interview was world’s away from the sensationalism that used to accompany these stories. 

Too often in my 20 years as a Jewish communal professional and volunteer I have encountered homophobia. 

Whilst not the same as scoring four goals after coming out to my family – as Jake did – being fully myself and aligned in my work to support those making our community and Israel fairer and more inclusive is a little liberating. 

At the New Israel Fund we run Kick it Out Israel, modelled on Kick it Out here and supported by the Bloom Foundation. 

In recent years, Kick it Out Israel has expanded from combating racism to tackling homophobia and transphobia. 

Our work had two breakthroughs this season. 

Israeli Premier League referee Sapir Berman announced that she was transitioning from male to female, with full backing from Israel’s FA to continue refereeing, becoming the first female Premier League referee in Israel. 

Maccabi Tel Aviv held a club’s first disciplinary hearing to redress homophobic chanting directed at Maccabi Netanya goalkeeper Danny Amos – an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, whose brother is gay.

As the Nazi salutes from away fans at Tottenham last weekend and the recent embrace of an MK who founded the ‘beast parade’ by parts of the Israeli electorate and even parts of our community show, the fight goes on for a welcoming and equal community, society, and Israel.

If this raises issues which you need to discuss with someone, contact Samaritans at https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

 

About the Author
David Davidi-Brown is Chief Executive of the New Israel Fund UK, has previously worked for the JLC, UJS, UJIA, and Jewish Care, has volunteered with Limmud and KeshetUK, and is a Schusterman Fellow.
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