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‘Homophobia kills’ Warning of toxic masculinity in football as Jake Daniels comes out

Despite Fashanu’s bravery, his openness about his sexuality cost him his career and his well being and so the recent actions of the 17-year-old Blackpool striker have rightly been labelled as courageous. Speaking on Sky Sports, Daniels defiantly told those who do not support him to “shout what you want, it’s not going to make a difference”.

The striker spoke about his profession and how it made him feel he could not be open about his sexuality.

Daniels said it has been “such a long time of lying” after he realised, he was gay when he was around five or six years old.

He added: “I felt like I did need to hide it and maybe wait until I retired to come out…I know now is the time. I’m ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all.”

Psychotherapist and former NHS Clinical Lead for Mental Health Owen O’Kane spoke exclusively to on the impact of Daniels’ actions on conversations around male mental health and sexuality within sport. 

Mr O’Kane commended the Blackpool player for his actions and said: “Real courage happens when people unapologetically stand up for who they are. 

“It is a way of handing back shame to the perpetrators and forcing them to look at how they are behaving.”

Amid fears of a strong backlash to Daniels both on and off the pitch which could in fact deter those from coming out Mr O’Kane added: “Ignoring or trying to appease those who are homophobic, racist, or discriminatory in any way adds to the problem. 

“It is a fear driven mechanism and inadvertently a means of keeping the issue alive.”

According to YouGov research conducted on behalf of Stonewall in 2017, 43 percent of LGBTQ+ people believe that public sporting events are not a welcoming space for them.

Sport in general and especially group sports has been shown to benefit mental health, particularly for men either as players or spectators.

However, Mr O’Kane discussed the dichotomy of sports where it can both help and hinder mental health especially in relation to prevalent issues such as racism and homophobia.

He said: “The research is clear that feeling part of a group, and the socialisation linked to sport has a positive impact on mental health. 

“But when sport gets tarnished with homophobia, racism, or any sort of abuse, it must be noted that this is damaging to a significant number of people in the stadium.

“For example, if Jake experiences homophobic chants on the pitch, he will not be alone in this. 

“Every LGBTQ+ person in the stadium watching the game experiences the same rejection and shaming. But it goes further than that.

“We need to consider the wider impact: The father watching the game who has a gay son. The lines man who is bisexual but not out to anyone. 

“The teenage boy who thinks he may be transgender. The middle-aged lady who has just come out as lesbian to her kids – many people are being hurt and damaged regularly at these games.” 

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Speaking on how he felt he had to hide his sexuality for his career, Daniels said: “It did impact my mental health but …I knew what I wanted when I wanted it, it was just a period of time of overthinking and stress and just a lot that came to my mind at once, but now it’s just all gone and I’m just confident and happy to be myself finally.”

He added: “I think it comes down to a lot of footballers wanting to be known as masculine and I think being gay a lot of people use it as being weak so a lot of people would say you’re doing that because you’re gay and because you’re weak and that’s just not the case.” 

According to Mr O’Kane, around 75 percent of sports fans in the UK are male and he noted that “it would be irresponsible not to address the culture of toxic masculinity that exists in sport.” 

The author and psychotherapist added: “It is a small percentage of men who actively engage in active discrimination. However, a large percentage of men don’t challenge this minority. 

“I think some men, particularly, feel uncomfortable challenging homophobia because they worry what people might think. 

“There is a complicated narrative linked to masculinity and ‘what makes a real man’.”

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This issue surrounding toxic masculinity in football is supported by the fact that several high-profile female England players such as Lianne Sanderson, Kelly Smith and Fara Williams were openly gay during their careers.

In order to tackle this negative culture in male football and other sports, Mr O’Kane said: “It needs a collective, committed response from everyone involved in sport: clubs, managers, governing bodies, police, security, and fans.

“A zero-tolerance approach to homophobic chants or online abuse is essential.”

He added: “We need to have these conversations and name this truthfully and we also really need to rethink some of the neanderthal attributes of masculinity that appear to be seen as positive, acceptable, or even desirable with a small minority.

“If one footballer comes out in 30 years, this is surely indicative of a significant problem that needs urgent attention.” 

Mr O’Kane concluded: “To not engage with this is to be complicit with the problem. Homophobia kills. It’s that serious.

“For me it’s less about being a man. It’s more about embracing humanity: masculinity, femininity, vulnerability, weakness, and strength. 

“It’s about being human.”



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