Jakub Jankto’s Coming Out proves that football still has a very long way to go

Credit: ABC17NEWS
Credit: ABC17NEWS

For the longest time, some football fans wondered when the next homosexual male footballer would “come out”. Last year, we got the answer to that question, when Blackpool player Jake Daniels courageously came out as gay.

This week we saw Jakub Jankto do the same, and while it’s progressive that an active international footballer has come out, it has also shown the ugly side of the beautiful game. What do we mean by this? Let us explain.

Two steps forward, one step back

Let’s not belittle what Jankto and Daniels have done, because they are trailblazers. Coming out in general is a very brave thing to do, but to do so when so few in their field have done so before, it’s even more courageous.

The disappointing element in this is the response from some football “fans”, if they can even be called that. When Jankto’s announcement was made public, news outlets from around the world understandably picked it up and ran the story.

Jake Daniels became the first openly-gay active professional footballer this century last year. Image: Sky Sports

In the age of social media and the internet, reaction was widespread and instant. The majority of people came out in support of Jankto, but not everybody, far from it in fact. If you look for the posts regarding Jankto on Facebook, there are a lot of “likes” and “loves”, but also a lot of “hahas”.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss these laughing reactions as harmless or childish, but there’s a darker side to this. Reactions like this only take a second, but comments require more thought. The comments left on some pages and websites are gut-wrenchingly disgusting to read and prove we’ve got a very long way to go.

The danger gay footballers face

The public reaction to Jankto’s news from certain circles has been sickening. There are more gay footballers out there. It’s a statistical impossibility that there are only two in the men’s game out of a pool of hundreds of thousands of professional players around the world.

How can we expect more to come out though, when these announcements bring out the worst in some sections of society? Take these comments I found on a sports Facebook page with millions of likes:

“Imagine what his teammates feel when they are in the dressing room” one commenter said.

“I wonder why nobody ever comes [out] as a straight in football? Might be because it’s irrelevant to football I guess” another posed, completely missing the point.

“Other teamates will be covering their a** in the dressing room” one more commented.

I didn’t have to scroll to find these comments – they were at the top. These were the ones more people reacted to than any of the others. The reactions to these homophobic comments weren’t negative either, people either agreed or laughed back.

I won’t name the publication these comments were left on, but it’s one that I used to work for and I was appalled at them. It’s often said that if you want to see the worst of humanity, you needn’t go further than the comments section on Facebook or the replies on Twitter, but this stooped to a whole new low.

Take, for example, Billy Gilmour as well. Gilmour was subjected to homophobic abuse while playing for Norwich City in 2021. A vocal section of the Liverpool support hurled bigoted slurs at the Scottish international, something the club faced no punishment for.

The worst part about Gilmour’s experience is perhaps that he isn’t gay. If a player that isn’t gay is the subject of homosexual abuse at the top level of English football, it’s scary to think what could happen to the likes of Jankto and Daniels in the coming years.

What about gay footballers in the past?

Jankto and Daniels aren’t the first openly gay male footballers, but they are the first actively playing for decades. Justin Fashanu came out as gay in 1990, a time when misinformation around HIV/AIDS was rife and homophobia was a part of everyday life in Britain.

Fashanu has deservedly been inducted into the UK’s Football Hall of Fame, as he was the first openly gay footballer in the UK.

Fashanu came out as gay in a time when homophobia was endemic in Western society. Image credit: BBC / Getty Images

Tragically though, eight years after coming out, the torture was too much for Fashanu and he took his own life. I’m not suggesting that Daniels and Jankto will face this level of abuse – mainstream media, politicians and the sports’ governing bodies cannot be openly homophobic like they could 30 years ago.

However, some of the reactions to their announcements from what is claimed to be an open and tolerant society has been so disappointing. When we just had a World Cup hosted by Qatar though – a nation where homosexuality is illegal – clearly homophobia is still tolerated by some.

I commend Daniels and Jankto for what they have done – they will most likely inspire more gay footballers to come out. While there is a section of fans that believe it’s okay to abuse others for their sexual orientation though, most gay footballers will understandably be afraid to reveal their true selves to the world.

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