Blackpool footballer, Jake Daniels has recently become the first player in English football to come out as gay whilst actively playing, since Justin Fashanu more than 30 years ago. Daniels is 17 years old and has instantly become a household name - he's been written about on the front and back pages, discussed on morning television, mentioned countless times on social media, and even praised by the Prime Minister and other senior politicians.

Video: Sky Sports Football on You Tube

Jake made the announcement on the Blackpool FC Website. It said:

This season has been a fantastic one for me on the pitch. I've made my first-team debut, scored 30 goals for the youth team, signed my first professional contract and shared success with my team-mates, going on a great run in the FA Youth Cup and lifting the Lancashire FA Pro-Youth Cup.

But off the pitch I've been hiding the real me and who I really am. I've known my whole life that I'm gay, and I now feel that I'm ready to come out and be myself.

It's a step into the unknown being one of the first footballers in this country to reveal my sexuality, but I've been inspired by Josh Cavallo, Matt Morton and athletes from other sports, like Tom Daley, to have the courage and determination to drive change.

In reaching this point, I've had some of the best support and advice from my family, my Club, my agent and Stonewall, who have all been incredibly pro-active in putting my interests and welfare first. I have also confided in my team-mates in the youth team here at Blackpool, and they too have embraced the news and supported my decision to open up and tell people.

The announcement from Jake Daniels, follows that of Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo last October, and previous statements from former A-League player Andy Brennan, who in 2019 became the first Australian professional male football player to publicly come out while playing. 5 years earlier the former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger came out just a year after he announced his retirement from football and before that American international Robbie Rogers announced he was gay when retiring from professional football in February 2013.

We have rainbow laces, players taking the knee to support a message of anti-racism and diversity and even Match of the Day and Sky Sports with their message of "Hate Won't Win". Despite all that, here we are in 2022 and there's still a massive problem with footballers coming out as gay.

Gay Sports Writer and author of Sportsex, Toby Miller, has been giving us his take on the sometimes strained relationship between sport and the gay community. Toby has also been sharing his own experinces.

"When I was younger I was definitely one of those queer boys who got picked last - or on a good day next to last - for every team sport except square dancing."

With that trauma lurking in my mind, I approached Sportsex, a remarkable exploration of organized sports, erotica, and culture by, with more than a little trepidation. I wanted to write a guide through this tricky terrain that had great joy and profound insight, fully aware of the minefield I find myself in.

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Instead of having to relive the terror of seventh grade I was delighted to discover in Sportsex a hugely enjoyable, smart and sexy examination of the role sports and athletes play in the contemporary lesbian and gay sexual imagination. There's no question that beautiful handsome men like David Beckham, Ian Thorpe and Tom Daley have had an immense effect on the influence that sexuality has had on sport.

OutUK: As I read Sportsex, I was struck that with all the extensive intellectual and critical focus examining almost every aspect of popular culture, sports has been largely left out. What led you to go to the forbidden land of contemporary sports?
Toby Miller: I have been very concerned that cultural studies has devoted a vast amount of energy and time to soap opera, reality TV, hanging out in shopping malls, you name it, but has done very little about the most prevalent form of popular culture in world history. Sport is so important, both as something people watch and something they do, as well. Bertolt Brecht once said a sports arena was a place where you might start a revolution. Today, we're more likely to see a new cable channel! Either way, it needs to be addressed. Why the lack of interest? I think this neglect has been because folks see sport as anti-intellectual, right-wing, and unseemly. In gender terms, it's regarded by many people as misogynistic and homophobic.

But I perceive major changes in the way sport and sexuality are unfolding. We live in an era when commercial forces have permeated sport so thoroughly that men are overtly exposed to a sexualizing gaze. Their bodies are objects of sale to gay male and straight female spectators. The pressure on the male body to look beautiful is now beginning to approximate what women have suffered for generations. There are some positive aspects to this change. Hence the book. It took me thirteen years to get there, but now it's done!
England's Finest Sporting Icon.

OutUK: I was really haunted by what you wrote in the introduction to Sportsex that "beauty is as much a part of male sports discourse today as toughness, while grace is the avowed compatriot of violence." What did you discover about this dynamic tension as you wrote Sportsex?
Toby Miller: It is a dynamic tension. Sport is full of weird contradictions. We are constantly told that it is all about competition, but of course it's just as much about collaboration, especially in team sports. We're told that it's a place where the cream of talent and work rise to the top, but as the success of wealthy sports teams and the failure of poor ones shows, that success comes at a price. In aesthetic/sexual terms, we often associate sports with aggression and power - a fast serve in tennis, a right hook in boxing, a defensive tackle in football. But it's also and equally about beauty - the mechanics of the tennis shot, the taut bodies in boxing trunks, the tight pants in football. And the two tendencies have become intertwined. So just as the American NFL advertises itself as a tough, "real" man's game, it now markets its players as sex symbols whose mere appearance in their drag-like uniforms is a sign of beauty (supposedly!). Of course, the tension is more complex than that - the beauty is not so easily divorced from the power. They work together.

OutUK: It's interesting to me that gay men's almost universally negative experiences of organized sports in childhood (the horror! the ball is coming to me!) is frequently doubled in adult life with an erotic fascination for the bodies of sports figures. The lesbian cliche of being in love with your gym teacher brings up a whole other angle of how sports play out - as it were - in our lives. What did you observe about how sports both informs and provokes gay and lesbian erotica?
Toby Miller: Well, it's pretty clear from a lot of lesbian writing that sports have been a venue for meeting people, forming alliances, and creating community. Conversely, as you say, the experience for gay men is often very alienating. That changed, as the buff body of the '80s clone became fashionable, and the reality of queer culture's ubiquity became clear. To hear a sports commentator get excited over another man's performance is to hear something very erotic. 'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. He's done it! He's done it!' Remind you of anything? To me, it's akin to a powerful orgasm.

OutUK: I love that! It does make me wonder what was I really looking at when I saw Ian Thorpe's glamour shot in Newsweek which was on my computer screen saver for over a year? His body? His Australian body? (My partner is Aussie, so I'm a sucker for that.) His Australian swimmer's body? His expensive wrist watch on his Australian swimmer's body?

Toby Miller: Well your powers of observation, and pleasure in observing, are remarkable! Of course, you'd not have seen the watch or the contours of Thorpe's trim, taut, and terrific form if he hadn't been a swimmer of exceptional quality. And you'd have seen much less of him prior to this era. Before, swimmers were supposedly amateurs. Now, that hypocrisy has gone, and they are up for sale. So that means you see him as a commercial figure as well as an athletic one, although they are interdependent. You see, as it were, more of him. And more of it is conditioned through the commercial realities of his media persona and means of making money.

Ian Thorpe on the cover of Cleo magazine.
Newsweek knows it has three key audiences for its coverage of him - gay men, straight women, and sports fans of whatever orientation. That makes more money than just appealing to the old sports fan, supposedly straight and drawn purely by athletic performance, not by looks (but who knows about that?).

OutUK: Is there sometimes a pretty tricky "eroticizing the oppressor " stuff going on here. All right, I'll just speak for myself here. I was a bit appalled with myself when ten or fifteen years ago I clipped out the photo of the Croatian tennis star Goran Ivanisevic who had snarled his anti-gay slurs after winning Wimbledon and then proceeded to head back to Croatia and strip down to his bikini briefs in public. Such a hot homophobe! I think I still have the picture! Is sports the last refuge of un-politically correct erotica?
Toby Miller: Goran Ivanisevic was one of a number of very troubling characters for many of us. Many sports are dominated by conservatives - it was once reported that every US golfer on the PGA tour was a registered Republican voter. Tennis players, especially women, leave school well before they have learnt the basics of social history. Most pro athletes subscribe to a notion of natural ability added to hard work producing their success, and extrapolate from that to other activities. They're not prone to looking at inequality, oppression, etc unless it directly derives from their own childhoods - and even then, they often understand their success as the result of a merit-based system. Plus, despite all the advances made to appeal to queers, pro sports is still resolutely homophobic.

Famously, Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman had a brawl at an ESPN restaurant when they met to promote their upcoming heavyweight boxing world title bout. This followed Rahman referring to Lewis as 'gay' because the latter had used the courts to initiate their contest. Weird to think of the law as a safe house for queers! But this tension, this dynamic, this need to define masculinity as 'not-gay' remains very very powerful indeed. That said, Lewis and Rahman are revealing our cultural tensions in a brutal way, living out the contradictions (including the suspicion that part of this was a publicity stunt). Homophobia is everywhere. Queers grow up with it all around, including, many say, within themselves. It's a tough negotiation. There is a side to sexual fantasy, as we all know, that is bad bad bad. Power is hot. Sanitised sex is not. We often dream about and get off on things we don't approve of or wish to do. And sometimes we cross the boundary!

OutUK: Sportsex explores the complicated gender-bending that goes on in sports: the butt-slapping, wild hugs, exaggerated almost drag-like behavior for the men and the critique sometimes hurled at women athletes for "playing like a man?" What kind of genders are being "performed" by these behaviours?

Toby Miller: These are means, I believe, of extending joy beyond the bureaucratic norms of everyday life. They reference a pre-adult, pre-adolescent moment, when touching intimately has not been defined and theorized as transgressive. They represent a wordless play of difference.

Folks who would be uncomfortable touching another man in any other context reach out to do so unfailingly and joyously at play. There are many sports where men touch each other on a regular basis, indeed in some of the toughest sports it happens a lot. When they do that, they open up our repertoire of relating.

Tom Daley - My Story is available from Amazon.
OutUK: Our experience of sports is inevitable very personal and embodied. You bring some really lovely and honest personal narratives of your own experience with sports as you grew up. What did you discover about your own relationship to the subject as you wrote the book?
Toby Miller: First of all, the book came out just after another one I did on globalization and sport. In each case, I'd been working on the topic for thirteen years. So I discovered relief and completion (a bit post-orgasmic!). On the topic itself, I guess I confirmed that my own response to sportsex is highly ambivalent. I loath the disciplinary sides to sports, the moralistic attitudes, and the history of sexism, racism, homophobia, and nationalistic chauvinism. But I love the beauty and power. And I think that there are some progressive sides to capitalism, when it turns its eager eye on the body. For centuries, there has been an over-valuation of the gaze of straight men at women, as registered everywhere in our culture. Now, advertisers have discovered a different gaze and they like how it looks. We can't be sure what the outcome will be, but sports are changed forever.
Sportsex by Toby Miller is published by Temple University Press.
Available from Amazon.


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