Entertainment Sports Soccer Star Jake Daniels Comes Out, Becomes UK's First Openly Gay Men's Player in 32 Years "I've hated lying my whole life," Blackpool FC's new recruit Jake Daniels said Monday in a statement, becoming the first U.K. men's soccer player to come out as gay in nearly 32 years By Glenn Garner Glenn Garner Instagram Twitter Glenn Garner is a Writer/Reporter who works heavily with PEOPLE's Movies and TV verticals. Since graduating from Northern Arizona University with a dual major in journalism and photography, he got his professional start at OUT Magazine, The Advocate and Teen Vogue, and he's since consistently kept his finger on the pulse of the LGBTQ community. His first book The Guncle Guide was released in 2020 and was featured on Katie Couric's list of 100 recommended books of the year. People Editorial Guidelines Published on May 16, 2022 05:35 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Jake Daniels. Photo: Mark Cosgrove/News Images/Sipa via AP Jake Daniels is kicking off his professional soccer career with some big news. The Blackpool FC player, 17, came out as gay on Monday in a statement, becoming the U.K.'s first active openly gay soccer pro since the late Justin Fashanu came out nearly 32 years ago in 1990. "I've been hiding the real me and who I really am," Daniels wrote. 'I've known my whole life that I'm gay, and I now feel that I'm ready to come out and be myself." Daniels debuted with Blackpool FC earlier this month, after coming off the Blackpool youth team. College Football Star Likely to Become First NFL Athlete with Openly Same-Sex Parents "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," he said. The teenager also credited his family, his agent and his Blackpool teammates with helping him embrace his truth, as well as pro-LGBTQ nonprofit Stonewall. Mark Cosgrove/News Images/Sipa via AP "I've hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in," he wrote. "I want to be a role model myself by doing this." "There are people out there in the same space as me that may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality. I just want to tell them that you don't have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in," Daniels added. "You being you, and being happy, is what matters most." The Lancashire native wrote in an essay for Sky Sports that it was a "weight off the shoulders" and a "massive relief" telling his mom and sister, as he'd known he was gay since he was 5 or 6. "So it's been a long time that I have been living with the lie," Daniels said. "At that age you don't really think that football and being gay doesn't mix. You just think, 'One day, when I'm older I'll get a girlfriend and I will change and it will be fine,'" he added. "But as you get older you realize you can't just change. It doesn't work like that." He noted that he even considered waiting until his retirement to come out, as no other active U.K. men's player is currently out (Several women's players are part of the LGBTQ community. Former Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in 2014 and Hull City youth alum Thomas Beattie came out in 2020, but they were both retired at the time). "I knew that would lead to a long time of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life that I want to," Daniels wrote. Elsewhere in his piece, Daniels said he's preparing himself for the inevitable backlash and homophobic responses. "It's an easy thing for people to target," he admitted. "The way I see it is that I am playing football and they are shouting stuff at me, but they are paying to watch me play football and I am living my life and making money from it. So shout what you want, it's not going to make a difference." RELATED VIDEO: JoJo Siwa Celebrates 1 Year Since Coming Out as LGBTQ: 'I've Felt More Love Than Ever' Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. "I won't stop people from saying that stuff, I just need to learn how to not let it affect me," Daniels added. Daniels' coming out took place nearly 32 years after Fashanu revealed his sexuality in Oct. 1990. He was later accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old boy in 1998. Fearing he wouldn't get a fair trial as homosexuality was illegal at the time in Maryland, where he resided, Fashanu fled back home to London, where he died by suicide shortly after.