Big moment | 

Leo Varadkar says gay footballer Jake Daniels is 'tackling homophobia head on'

The Tánaiste praised Blackpool forward Daniels after he became the UK's first currently active male professional footballer to come out as gay

Jake Daniels

Paul Hyland and Alan Caulfield

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has praised English footballer Jake Daniels for tackling homophobia “head on”.

Yesterday, the Blackpool forward became the UK's first currently active male professional footballer to come out as gay.

In a message posted on Twitter this morning, Mr Varadkar called out the “abuse” which is often directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a big moment. First English professional footballer to say he’s gay in 32 years & he’s done it at the start of his career. He’s tackling head on the risk of homophobic abuse from some ‘fans’ in the stands, on-line and on the streets,” he wrote.

Jake Daniels is the first Briton in the men's professional game to come out publicly as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

He told Sky Sports: "It's been quite a crazy year. I'm 17. I've signed a professional contract. I've scored 30 goals this season and I've just made my first-team debut in the Championship, coming off the bench against Peterborough.

"And now I have decided to come out. Everything has 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 this was the one last thing in my head that I knew I needed to do.

"Now it's out, and people know. Now I can just live my life how I want to and you know what? It's been incredible."

"But I've been 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 subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men's football is still a taboo. 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. It's an easy thing for people to target.

Daniels said on the Blackpool club website he had been inspired by other sportsmen to reveal his sexuality.

"It's a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality," he said.

"The way I see it is that I am playing football and they are shouting stuff at me, but they are paying to watch me play football and I am living my life and making money from it.

"So shout what you want, it's not going to make a difference.

"I won't stop people from saying that stuff, I just need to learn how to not let it affect me.

"I am hoping that by coming out, I can be a role model, to help others come out if they want to.

"I am only 17 but I am clear that this is what I want to do and if, by me coming out, other people look at me and feel maybe they can do it as well, that would be brilliant."

Praise for Daniels has poured in since the interview.

British prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted:  "Thank you for your bravery Jake, it would have taken huge 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: "Massive respect for this brave decision. Let's all help create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ people in football and beyond!"

FIFPRO, the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers, tweeted: "We are so proud of Jake Daniels for deciding to share his story. No one should ever have to hide who they are. Thanks to Jake's teammates and club who stand beside him and the LGBTQIA+ community."

Manchester United tweeted: "We're proud of you, Jake. You're 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 is inspirational, Jake."

Blackpool's Lancashire rivals Preston added: "Preston North End commend the courage shown by Jake Daniels, we hope his bravery is an inspiration for others to feel they are able to follow in his footsteps. Football is a game for all."

Kick It Out's chief executive Tony Burnett said it was now vital he was given the correct support.

"The bravery Jake has shown today will hopefully go some way to showing that men's football is becoming an environment in which LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and comfortable to be their authentic selves," Burnett said.

"We now have a renewed responsibility to him and the LGBTQ+ community at large to work with all clubs and stakeholders to ensure that he receives the right support now, and that the infrastructure is in place to ensure that he can continue on his footballing journey like any other 17-year-old.

"This is a big story, and an historic day in English football, but we need to remember that there is a young man at the heart of it. A young man who should not have to be defined by this one moment, or this one part of his identity.

"We wish Jake a long and successful career in football. He has our full and unwavering support."

Liz Ward, the director of programmes at LGBTQ+ rights charity 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, while there is still a way to go, attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in sport are changing.

"We are moving towards a world where players can live openly as their true selves, both on and off pitch - and that is something we can all take pride in.

"Stonewall is proud to provide ongoing support to Jake, his close network and Blackpool FC to navigate the challenges of coming out in the public eye. This is an opportunity for everyone involved in football - from the players to the fans in the stands - to support Jake and show that football is everybody's game."

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 to see he had the support of his club and Stonewall to make the announcement possible.

The Football Association said Daniels was "an inspiration to us all" and added: "We fully support your decision to be open about this part of yourself. Football is a game for all, with diversity at its heart, and this is a hugely positive step as we strive to build an inclusive game that we can all be proud of.

"We are with you and we hope your story will help to give people across the game the strength and encouragement to be their true self."

Blackpool are currently competing in the Championship, the second tier of English football.

Homophobia is common in the stands at 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 are afraid of the response if they come out.

Although he was praised for his bravery in being the first prominent British player to come out in 1990, Justin Fashanu was often the subject of crowd abuse. He took his own life in 1998 following an accusation of sexual assault in the US by a 17-year-old boy, which he denied.

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