In October 2021, Australian footballer Josh Cavallo came out as gay. Cavallo became the first openly gay footballer since February 2013, when Columbus Crew’s Robbie Rogers came out. After the American’s retirement in 2017, the men’s football scene was without an open member of the LGBTQ+ community for four years. Cavallo’s bravery paved the way for 17-year-old Jake Daniels, a Blackpool youth product who came out as gay in May 2022. With hundreds of thousands of professional players worldwide, the fact of the matter remains that more LGBTQ+ members of the footballing community remain in the closet, unwilling to come out.Embed from Getty Images
But why? Is it the fear of homophobia from spectators? Are footballers not able to feel fully comfortable in their own team environments? Or is there a deeper-lying issue preventing openly LGBTQ+ footballers from making it pro altogether? These are questions that have been lingering for years within the footballing landscape, that few have been willing to answer. The bravery shown by both Cavallo and Daniels could serve as a gateway into showing others that they don’t need to hide who they are. In fact, for both, they cited that as one of the main goals in sharing their own story.
“I hope that in sharing who I am, I can show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community.”– Josh Cavallo
Despite that dream, deeper-lying issues continue to exist, particularly when it comes to tackling homophobia and the lack of acceptance that ripples throughout the entire footballing world.Embed from Getty Images
One of the stranger aspects of the conversation – there are a plethora of openly LGBTQ+ footballers in the women’s game. It’s not as though homophobia or discrimination fail to exist in the women’s game. But perhaps there is more room within the team environments themselves for women to feel accepted to be who they are. Any women’s footballer that comes out as gay knows that they will be supported by a community of other players. That community just so happens to include some of the game’s biggest stars – from Vivianne Miedema to Marta, Megan Rapinoe to Rachel Daly, Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson, all the way to Sam Kerr. If a majority of the game’s biggest stars in the men’s game also came out as LGBTQ+, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that we’d experience a different atmosphere surrounding homophobia in men’s football, and that many others would follow suit in feeling safe to show their true selves.Embed from Getty Images
But for the time being, we instead see professional players who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community only feeling safe to come out after they retire. In January 2019, former Botafogo footballer Douglas Braga told BBC News that he quit football aged 21, feeling that it was impossible for him to exist in the footballing world as an openly gay man. More famously, German pro Thomas Hitzlsperger came out after retirement back in 2014. He announced then and there that he thought football was on the path toward greater acceptance.Embed from Getty Images
He was wrong. It took seven more years for another pro footballer in the men’s game to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In that time, fans of Premier League clubs have been banned for chanting homophobic remarks on a monthly basis, and even UEFA themselves investigated Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband in support of diversity and inclusion. Spanish referee Jesús Tomillero received death threats and had to be put under police protection after coming out in 2016; and more recently, Idrissa Gueye of PSG refused to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it. All of these examples point to the fact that the footballing universe is not yet fully accepting of footballers who may identify within the LGBTQ+, contributing toward keeping players in the closet. It’s not just fans. It’s not even just the environments at football clubs themselves. It goes as deep as some of football’s governing bodies; and wider conceptions of masculinity and femininity in sport.Embed from Getty Images
Hopefully the bravery shown by Cavallo and Daniels will inspire more footballers to do the same, and share with the world an important part of their identity that should not need to be hidden. Unfortunately, the footballing community remains stuck in the dinosaur age, and we may not see that promise come to full fruition until there is a wider shift. If one of the game’s biggest stars were ever to make themselves known as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that may be a positive step. But first the footballing world has to become fully accepting of the idea of an openly gay footballer plying their trade in the men’s game, and provide a safe space for players to be who they are outside of football.
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Rhys Desmond is the creator of TheMastermindSite.com and the writer behind more than 800 articles found on the site since 2016. Rhys previously held roles as a coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps affiliated club Whitecaps London FC and was the Technical Leader of NorWest Optimist Soccer Club in London, Ontario. He holds a graduate degree in Sport Management & Leadership at Western University and a B.A. in Recreation and Leisure Studies with a Minor in Psychology from the University of Waterloo. Rhys is currently working for a non-profit in Cambridge, Ontario leading recreation programs for kids and youth in a low-income neighbourhood. He also works as a freelance football analyst, open to pro clubs for opportunities.
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