For Dublin-based GAA star Nicole Owens, who has become a mental health advocate after speaking out about her struggles with anxiety, coming to terms with her own sexuality has been tremendously healing.
He has mixed feelings about 17-year-old footballer Jake Daniels’ decision to come out. In an ideal world, being gay shouldn’t be “a big statement,” she says.
“I think it’s an incredibly brave thing for someone so young, in an extremely straight environment where there aren’t any other gay male role models,” says Owens.
However, she finds it unfortunate that a sports star coming out in 2022 is still making headlines and that the burden of coming out is not placed on straight players.
“Although it was brave of one person, it generally reflects a fairly negative environment. It sparks a conversation about people needing to make this big statement about it. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t be a big statement and there shouldn’t need to be people to be commended for their bravery. I’m mixed, to be honest,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that this 17-year-old had to open herself to the world because of a lack of other gay role models. And that’s not an indictment of these people themselves, but rather of the enduring culture and the broader element of society that still stigmatizes men.”
She said it weighed on a certain segment of society.
“In an ideal society, it wouldn’t be a big life step in someone’s life because it’s horrible, it’s a horrible thing to go through,” she said.
“So my first reaction was that he’s incredibly brave, but I’m really sad that he must have really struggled in recent years and that’s an indictment on men’s sport and society as a whole.”
Here in Ireland, the first male sports star to speak out about being gay was GAA legend Donal Óg Cusack after the three-time All-Ireland Hurling Champion published his 2009 autobiography.
Since then there has been a shortage of men who have come out as gay or bisexual among Ireland’s sporting elite, with former Leinster player Jack Dunne being the latest last year.
As for why there are so few male sports stars coming out in Ireland, she believes the women’s sports arena could be a lot more acceptable.
“There are fewer problems with masculinity, being tough and not being seen as vulnerable. There is less of that in women’s sport. I think there’s a lot of that in men’s sport and so it seems like a barrier for a lot of people to be open about it,” she said.
She recalled a speech given by the St Vincent team captain in 2014 after winning the club championship, in which Enda Delaney thanked the players’ “friends” during his speech.
“I just remember thinking, ‘This is how you do it.’ No need to call anyone, just use inclusion language and not make a big deal about someone on the team having a friend or being gay,” she said.
The captain of Dublin Devils, Ireland’s only gay football club, warmly welcomed Jake Daniels’ decision to come out and hopes it inspires others on a similar journey.
Adam Kane, who is also club secretary, described the 17-year-old forward’s announcement as “a powerful moment” for footballers in Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community.
He’s optimistic it will open up the conversation for other players and help change the narrative.
Kane says the reason Daniel’s announcement was such big news is because men’s football has this “hypertoxic masculinity in it”.
“And the women’s game doesn’t have that problem. It’s specific to the men’s game and it’s more normal to use certain insults and say certain things. It’s all swept under the rug in that boys will be boys mindset.
“It’s huge news and hopefully it won’t be such a big deal going forward if players do come out in the future.”
Daniels has received much praise for becoming the first male professional footballer since Justin Fashanu in 1990, with everyone from Rio Ferdinand to Gary Neville sending messages of support.
The teenager also quoted Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo, who came out as gay last year, and Kane said those announcements often have a knock-on effect in the tight-knit world of elite sport.
Kane says: “This is especially true in men’s football. Women’s sport just doesn’t have that problem thanks to people like Kellie Harrington, it’s been normalized. In men’s football this was a bit of a problem and a burden and people need a lot of support.
“In our own game here, if there was ever a player within clubs, he should help him step forward and make a brave decision to come out and be himself. But it’s crazy that we have to say that at all – it shouldn’t be a bold decision.”
https://www.independent.ie/news/in-an-ideal-world-it-shouldnt-have-to-be-a-big-statement-gaa-star-nicole-owens-on-jake-daniels-decision-to-come-out-41659827.html “In an ideal world, it shouldn’t be a big statement” – GAA star Nicole Owens on Jake Daniels’ decision to come out