For years now, FIFA has tried, with varying degrees of effort, to stop Mexico fans from chanting a homophobic slur at opposing goalkeepers.
The Mexican soccer federation has been fined – more than a dozen times, to the tune of many thousands of dollars. Mexico has been forced to play home World Cup qualifiers without fans and at reduced capacity. FIFA even dangled the threat of kicking El Tri out of competitions, including the World Cup, if fans didn’t stop with the offensive chant.
What does this have to do with Jake Daniels? Nothing. And everything.
Daniels is the Blackpool forward who came out last month, making him the first openly gay man playing in English professional soccer in 30 years. While Blackpool plays in England’s second division, one level below the Premier League, this was the equivalent of a current NFL player coming out and the reaction, publicly at least, was overwhelmingly positive.
Daniels was praised by Prince William, who in addition to being the future king is the head of England’s Football Association, as well as England captain Harry Kane and manager Gareth Southgate. Norwich City players took the field before their final Premier League match in T-shirts with Daniels’ name and rainbow stripes on themalong with the words “Game Changer” and “Norwich City are with you.”
“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,” Daniels told Sky Sports.
“I am hoping that by coming out, I can be a role model.”
And therein lies the tie between Daniels and the Mexico fans.
It is simplistic, and naïve, to suggest that familiarity is the cure-all. It’s not. We still need protections for the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and women, and to take active stands against the bigots who want to tear those defenses down.
But when one of your “own” humanizes what is otherwise seen as a cause or a social campaign – think Kane and Manuel Neuer wearing rainbow armbands when they captain their national teams or the Premier League’s Leeds United partnering with the LGBTQ+ charity group Stonewall to develop educational and support programs – it hits different.
It should not require a personal association – “I’m the father of a daughter!” – to feel empathy for the marginalized or to make you confront and correct your implicit biases. But human nature being what it is, it too often does.
So now there will be Blackpool fans who once might have used homophobic slurs without a second thought who won’t because their team’s phenom – Daniels is 17, and made his debut with Blackpool’s senior team after being named the club’s youth player of the year – he is gay. There will be England supporters who will speak up when they hear someone disparaging LGBTQ+ people because they know Daniels could be wearing the Three Lions jersey someday, and that Kane stands behind him.
There will be other players who see the reaction to Daniels’ coming out, and the weight that has been lifted off his shoulders, and decide it is safe for them to live freely, too.
“Across any other walk of life, the sexuality of somebody wouldn’t even be questioned and wouldn’t be a discussion,” Southgate said. “So, that’s the bridge that we all know has needed to be crossed and he’s opened that possibility for everybody else now.”
We hate and fear what we do not know, as the laws targeting transgender participation in sports make abundantly clear. But the more we encounter those we see as “different,” the more we realize we’re all very much the same.
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And the more accepting we become.
When Gallup did its first poll on gay marriage, in 1996, just over a quarter of Americans supported it. Now that number is 70 percent. What changed in those 26 years? More visibility for LGBTQ+ people, primarily.
The number of Americans who identify as LGBTQ has jumped to 7.1 percent, double what it was in 2012. For young adults, ages 19 to 25, it’s about 21 percent. That means nearly every American knows someone – a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, community leader, favorite entertainer or athlete – who is L. When the group you would demonize and discriminate against now includes the face of someone you know, it becomes more uncomfortable, and ultimately unsupportable, to hate.
As Jake Daniels’ career progresses, and he’s seen as no different than any other player, that acceptance will carry beyond the field. And it will be the bigots who are made to feel unwelcome and, eventually, silenced.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Openly gay English soccer player Jake Daniels finds acceptance