When Josh Cavallo became the first active professional men’s football player in a top-division league worldwide to come out as openly gay on Wednesday, surely even he could not have expected the flood of support he would receive, not just from inside football but also outside the sport.
The 21-year-old full-back for Adelaide United, playing in Australia’s A-League Men, publicly came out in a statement he posted on social media, as well as a video published by his club.
“I’m a footballer, and I’m gay,” Cavallo says in the video. “Growing up, I always felt the need to hide myself because I was ashamed.
“Ashamed that I would never be able to do what I loved, and be gay. Hiding who I truly am to pursue a dream I always wished for as a kid. All I want to do is play football and be treated equally.”
From the likes of European giants Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, to star players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gerard Piqué, Cavallo has received overwhelming support from within the game.
Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester United footballer who has been vocal in campaigning in the United Kingdom against child poverty and racism, added his voice, telling Cavallo: “the entire football community stands with you”.
Prominent women’s footballers who identify as LGBTQ+, like Sweden’s two-time Olympic silver medallist Magdelena Eriksson, also sent their well-wishes.
Outside of football, there has also been interest and encouragement shown globally.
Prominent U.S. talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeting that she was “sending him a lot of love”.
The recently-retired Spanish NBA star Pau Gasol, who was elected to the IOC Athletes’ Commission at the recent Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, also sent a message of solidarity with the Australian, while Adelaide’s Australian Rules teams Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows added their voices to the chorus.
While footballers have previously come out, none have done so while actively playing in a top-tier league.
Former Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers came out while on a first retirement from the sport and later returned to playing professionally in Major League Soccer, while Germany’s ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger did so in 2014.
Justin Fashanu was the first openly gay professional footballer in England, having come out in 1990 towards the end of his career.
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