When Jake Daniels came out earlier this year, the Blackpool player became the first openly gay man in England in three decades.
Daniels, aged 17, was supported by his teammatessponsors, club management and owners in what could be a watershed move in Europe.
Despite the liberal attitude of society towards LGBT+ issues in many countries of the continent, only a small number of professional male athletes in team sports believe that they can be fully open about their sexual identity.
A few high-profile examples in recent times in football, rugby and hockey in Europe offer some hope that attitudes are changing.
“I think it’s great that a young man has appeared. I have friends in their 20s and they are completely different from my experience at that age,” explains Jim DolanFounder Pride of Ironsthe official LGBT+ supporter group at Premier League club West Ham United.
“They just know themselves. They know who they are, they know their place in the world.”
“Part of that is if you are a gay football player, what are you going to do in terms of research to prepare for possible disclosure? You will get to know Justin Fashanu’s story even if you didn’t know it. before and I’m sure things like this will have an effect,” Dolan told Euronews.
Justin Fashanu was the last – and only – famous English footballer to retire towards the end of his playing career in 1990.
A series of lewd stories he sold to the tabloids about his sex life caused him to fall out of favor with fans and managers. He was branded an outcast by his brother and he ended up playing for lower league teams in England and Scotland before going abroad to play and coach.
An accusation of having sex with an underage boy in America caused Fashana to flee back to England, where he committed suicide in 1998, believing he would not get a fair trial in the US because of his sexual orientation.
Jim Dolan says any players thinking about coming out right now can look to Jake Daniels’ positive experience as an indicator of how to handle their own coming out.
“He definitely opened the door because a lot of the players had no idea what was going to happen next. And I think that now many of these “what ifs” will be answered for them,” he said.
“There is security in numbers. If you are first, it will be more difficult than if you are second, third or fourth.
“You’re hoping that Jake Daniels can inspire people who want to get out there and see that it’s potentially easier than they might have thought.”
Changing attitudes towards professional rugby
There are also encouraging signs in the world of rugby that quitting the game does not mean the end of a career or the abandonment of fans and teammates.
This week, scrum-half Nick McCarthy, who plays professionally for Leinster in Ireland, came out as gay after telling his teammates and coaches earlier this year.
He describes the whole experience as a weight lifted from his shoulders.
“I’m really happy I did it,” McCarthy said in interview on the club’s website.
“I struggled with coming out for a while, and it started to take a toll on me and my happiness, so it was the right decision,” he said, adding that he was thinking about leaving the game completely, as he was not sure what it was. Maybe. like a professional athlete.
“It’s not natural for a male athlete to compete in sports, let alone professional rugby, and that’s probably something I didn’t want to believe in or accept myself,” he said, describing the experience since leaving as “totally positive.” .”.
Dunn will move to the Exeter Chiefs for the coming season, making him the first player to leave the English Premier League.
Gay rugby clubs across Europe
A sign of changing attitudes towards gays in team sports in Europe is the many inclusive rugby clubs created in recent decades to accommodate amateur players such as Stockholm Berserkers, Madrid Titanes as well as Kings Cross Steelers In London.
Many of them are completely new organisations, but there is an old club in Scotland founded as far back as 1893. Dunfermline Rugbybecame one of the first in Europe to create an inclusive team for gay and bisexual men within an existing club organization.
Germany’s first gay rugby club Berlin Brewers have been playing for almost ten years and started out simply with friendly matches against local teams. It took them two years to apply to the regional league for formal affiliation.
“We wanted to join the lowest league available here in the Berlin area and I went to the first meeting to register us without realizing the kind of treatment we might face,” said Alex Ark, one of the Berlin Bruisers club. organizers.
“We went with some apprehensions, and when I started my speech to explain about the Bruisers, I realized that it was a bit of a confusion.”
“They didn’t understand why I kept talking. At some point, someone asked: “Do you want to play rugby with us or not?” And it’s not a problem at all, “that we’re a gay team,” he told Euronews.
The team lost many of their first games by wide margins, but tenacity – and bloody noses on the pitch – earned the underdogs the respect of rivals.
“We have not even received comments from individual players. When things started to heat up, it wasn’t because of anti-LGBT sentiment, but because we became a more competitive team,” Ark said.
When a Finnish hockey player Stine Puhakka released in the fall of 2019, he has already retired from the game professionally.
There are almost no examples of elite hockey players who came out in Europe during their career – Danish goalkeeper John Lee-Olsen is one of the rare exceptions.
So in a country where hockey stars are put on a pedestal – the Finns are currently world and Olympic champions – it caused a media frenzy when the country’s biggest newspaper picked up an Instagram post that Puhakka wrote about his relationship status.
“It actually got a lot bigger than I expected, just because I thought I was already done playing, so I didn’t expect all the attention,” Puhakka told Euronews.
The 27-year-old, who received an award for his activity in Finland this month at the Finland Queer of the Year Awards, said everyone has their own reasons for not going out during their playing career, but in his case, it was influenced by a number of factors. involved.
“I was very young and still focused on my career and I didn’t want any barriers to further my career,” he said.
“If you go out while still playing, there are certain countries where hockey is quite popular and it can close some doors. So that was definitely one of the reasons.
“And there are very few examples of who did it and how it affected their careers,” Puhakka adds.
He now hopes that a different, younger and more open generation of players and coaches will make it easier for professional athletes to emerge.
“I believe that the fear of recognition is more in the minds of individuals. It’s not that if you’re gay, you have to confess. be yourself,” Puhakka said.
“But we’ve reached the point where we need a couple more examples of coming out to show that it won’t hurt your career.”