Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has praised English footballer Jake Daniels for fighting homophobia “head-on”.
Yesterday the Blackpool forward became the first active male professional footballer in Britain to come out as gay.
In a message posted to Twitter this morning, Mr Varadkar called out the “abuse” that is often directed against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“This is a big moment. First English professional footballer to say he’s gay in 32 years, right at the start of his career. He is directly addressing the risk of homophobic abuse by some “fans” in the stands, online and on the street,” he wrote.
Jake Daniels is the first Brit in professional men’s football to publicly come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
He told Sky Sports: “It’s been a pretty crazy year. I’m 17. I signed a professional contract. I’ve scored 30 goals this season and I’ve just made my first-team debut in the Championship off the bench against Peterborough.
“And now I’ve decided to come out. Everything happened at once, but it feels right.
“When this season started I just wanted to prove myself as a player. I think I have. So that was the last thing I had to do on my mind.
“Now it’s out and people know it. Now I can just live my life the way I want, and you know what? It was amazing.”
“But I was inspired by Josh Cavallo (Adelaide defender), Matt Morton (Thetford manager) and athletes from other sports like Tom Daley to have the courage and determination to drive change.
“The topic of being gay, bi or queer is still taboo in men’s football. I think it comes down to how many footballers want to be known for their masculinity.
“And people see being gay as weak, something to be teased for on the football field.
Daniels said on the Blackpool club’s website he was inspired by other athletes to reveal his sexuality.
“It’s a step into the unknown to be one of the first footballers in this country to reveal their sexuality,” he said.
“The way I see it, I’m playing football and they’re yelling at me, but they’re paying for me to play football and I’m living my life and making money from it.
“So scream what you want, it won’t make a difference.
“I’m not going to stop people from saying things like that, I just have to learn not to let it affect me.
“I hope that by coming out, I can be a role model to help others come out if they want to.
“I’m only 17 but I know I want to do it and if other people look at me and think maybe if I come out they can do it too, that would be great.”
Praise for Daniels has poured in since the interview.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Thank you for your courage Jake, it would have taken tremendous courage to come out and you will be an inspiration to many, both on and off the pitch.”
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted: “Huge respect for this brave decision.
FIFPRO, the world representative organization for professional footballers, tweeted: “We are so proud of Jake Daniels that he has chosen to share his story. Nobody should ever have to hide who they are from the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Manchester United tweeted: “We’re proud of you Jake. You are an inspiration to us and many others.”
Manchester City wrote: “Proud of you Jake.”
Chelsea added on Twitter: “We’re proud of you Jake! Football is for everyone.”
Tottenham wrote: “Your courage and bravery are inspiring Jake.”
Blackpool’s Lancashire rivals Preston added: “Preston North End applaud the courage of Jake Daniels. We hope his courage inspires others to follow in his footsteps. Football is a game for everyone.”
Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett said it was important now that he had the right support.
“The courage Jake has shown today will hopefully help show that men’s football is becoming an environment where LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and comfortable to be their authentic selves,” said Burnett.
“We now have a renewed responsibility to him and the wider LGBTQ+ community to work with all clubs and stakeholders to ensure he has the right support now and that the infrastructure is in place to ensure he continues his footballing journey as we do any other 17 year old can.
“This is a big story and a historic day in English football, but we have to remember that a young man is at the centre. A young man who should not be defined by this one moment or part of his identity.
“We wish Jake a long and prosperous career in football. He has our full and unwavering support.”
Liz Ward, program director at LGBTQ+ rights organization Stonewall, added: “Football is ready for this moment and we believe it has been for some time.
“Our Rainbow Laces campaign has taught us that although there is still a long way to go, attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in sport are changing.
“We’re moving towards a world where players can openly live as their true selves, both on and off the pitch – and we can all be proud of that.
“Stonewall is proud to provide ongoing support to Jake, his close-knit network and Blackpool FC to meet the challenges of being in the public eye. This is an opportunity for everyone involved in football – from the players to the fans in the stands – support Jake and show that football is for everyone.”
Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out as gay shortly after his retirement, wished Daniels a wonderful career and said he was glad he had the support of his club and Stonewall to make the announcement possible.
The Football Association said Daniels was “an inspiration to all of us”, adding: “We fully support your decision to be open about this part of you. Football is a game for everyone, with diversity at heart, and this is an extremely positive step as we strive to create an inclusive game that we can all be proud of.
“We are with you and hope that your story will help give the people in the game the strength and encouragement to be their true selves.”
Blackpool currently play in the Championship, the second tier of English football.
Homophobia is rampant in the stands of some British football clubs and critics have often noted the absence of openly gay players, which they say is not because they don’t exist but because they fear the reaction if they come out.
Despite being lauded for his bravery when he emerged as the first prominent British player in 1990, Justin Fashanu has often been the subject of mass abuse. He took his own life in 1998 after a 17-year-old boy in the United States accused him of sexual assault, which he denied.