Adelaide United football player Josh Cavallo, 21, came out in a heartfelt message to his followers on social media on Wednesday afternoon. Cavallo is the first male professional Australian footballer to come out during their active playing days.

“Today, I’m ready to speak about something personal that I’m finally comfortable to talk about in my life,” Cavallo wrote.

“I am proud to publicly announce that I am gay. It’s been a journey to get to this point in my life, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”

“It is astonishing to know that there are currently no gay professional footballers who are out and actively playing, not only in Australia but around the world.

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“Hopefully this will change in the near future.”

Cavallo is the first active A-League Men’s player to come out as gay and one of the few out gay professional football players currently playing men’s football in any of its incarnations.

Cavallo received a mostly supportive reaction from his fellow players, club management and the club’s fan base, attracting appreciation for his bravery and for stepping up as a role model for other young kids out there who might be having trouble sorting through some difficult feelings.

‘I Always Felt The Need To Hide Myself’

The young player detailed his battle with his sexuality and the decision to come out as a sportsperson. “I have been fighting my sexuality for over six years now, and I’m glad I can put that to rest.

“For the people that know me personally, you’ll know I’m a private person. Growing up, I always felt the need to hide myself because I was ashamed. Ashamed 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, to play football and be treated equally never felt like a reality.

“Being a gay closeted footballer, I’ve had to learn to mask my feelings in order to fit the mould of a professional footballer. Growing up being gay and playing football were just two worlds that hadn’t crossed paths before. I’ve lived my life assuming that this was a topic never to be spoken about.

“In football, you only have a small window to achieve greatness, and coming out publicly may have a negative impact on a career. As a gay footballer, I know there are other players living in silence. I want to help change this, to show that everyone is welcome in the game of football and deserves the right to be their authentic self.

“I hope that in sharing who I am, I can show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community. As the game of football keeps expanding, I want to help evolve the game even further and let other players in my situation feel that they’re not alone.”

Cavallo thanked his family for their love and support and his team Adelaide United “for greeting me with the utmost respect and acceptance.

Josh Cavallo Bravely Opens The Way For Others

Josh Cavallo. Image: Twitter

Cavallo may have taken courage and inspiration from the last Australian footballer that publicly came out in 2019, Andy Brennan, who at the time was playing football for the Newcastle Jets.

The first professional rugby league player to come out in Australia was the incredibly brave and inspirational Ian Roberts. 

Roberts came out as a gay man in 1995 and dealt with public abuse, including being beaten on the Sydney Harbour foreshore as a direct result of that decision, as told to The Daily Telegraph earlier this year and reported by the Star Observer at the time. 

Pride In Sport applauded Cavallo’s bravery in coming out. “His bravery is to be congratulated and his journey shows the unfortunate reality that many athletes face when they are not able to enjoy the sport they love as their true selves,” said Beau Newell, National Program Manager for Pride In Sport.

“Like Cavallo, many athletes self-edit their existence in sport and expend a good deal of their daily energy on hiding their true self from others. His story highlights the fear that many athletes have in coming out: that they will face potential discrimination, harassment and bullying from those within their sport.”

Football, or Soccer as it is sometimes known is notoriously homophobic and the players themselves aren’t the only ones affected by anti-social behavior – fans of the game are also copping abuse and having to deal with homophobia from other fans, even those barracking for the same team.

This kind of institutionalised homophobia in the game is hard to ignore when the 2022 World Cup is being held in Qatar, where male homosexuality is illegal. The December 2020 announcement that Qatar would allow rainbow flags in stadiums during the events might bring hope that LGQTQI fans would be safe while attending the World Cup in that country.

Female football players enjoy a little bit more acceptance in their field with four out gay athletes competing for the Matildas in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, including Sam Kerr, who tweeted her support of Cavallo’s big news, tweeting “Good for you ❤️”

Very Rare For Male Players To Come Out

According to research conducted by Monash University, teenage girls felt safer to come out to coaches and teammates if there already were openly gay or bisexual players on their team or playing their sport.

“It is very important for professional athletes to come out in their sport and Josh Cavallo should be commended for taking this step and sharing his true, authentic self,” said Erik Denison, Researcher, School of Social Sciences (Faculty of Arts), Monash University.

Only four male athletes have come out in the history of Australian professional sport

“Unfortunately, it is very rare for male players to come out to their teammates in both professional and amateur sport. A significant reason why they are hesitant to come out is the constant use of homophobic language in male sport, which makes them feel unsafe and unwelcome,” said Denison. 

Denison reminded Football Australia of its 2014 commitment  to stamp out homophobia from sport.

“We have also found adolescent athletes who do come out as gay and bisexual to teammates are much more likely to report being the target of homophobic abuse, which increases their risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and self-harm,” said Denison. 

“I am glad to see Football Australia has publicly supported Cavallo, but it now needs to fulfil the public commitments it made in 2014 to ‘eradicate’ homophobia from Australian sport with meaningful action. I hope his bravery today will hopefully be a catalyst in the sport and this will also encourage others to feel safe to be their true selves on and off the field,” added Denison.

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