Gay footballer was ‘cut off’ by team because of who he is. So he decided to do something about it
Footballer Jake Williamson has loved sport ever since he was a child – but growing up gay made it hard for him to feel fully accepted.
“In my own head when I was growing up… [I thought], ‘I don’t fit in, I’m never going to come out, I’m going to live this life with a wife and kids, and that was going to be me,’” Jake tells PinkNews.
At the age of 16, Jake started playing semi-professional football. After a brief stint playing for a Polish football team after university, he left it all behind to pursue a career as a personal trainer.
Plans to move to Chicago to work as a trainer in a gym were scuppered by COVID-19 – all of a sudden, Jake found himself alone with his thoughts.
Meeting his partner at the age of 21 changed everything. He ended up coming out, at the height of the pandemic, an experience that was “tough in itself”.
Little did he know that there were more challenges coming down the line.
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After coming out, Jake moved to Birmingham and started playing in a Sunday football league. He opened up about being a gay footballer in an interview with the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast, and his teammates weren’t happy about it.
“I then experienced homophobia for the first time. I was completely shut out of the team,” he says.
He still gets “angry” and “upset” when he thinks about what happened.
“It’s bad enough that, in the society we live in, we get made to feel like we’re the worst thing on earth sometimes – so it’s not nice when your own football team just cuts you off.
“It didn’t stop me playing football but it was something that made me say: ‘Right, I need to address this rather than be sad about it.’”
I’ve played football for 20 years and I’m yet to meet an actively gay football player or manager.Jake Williamson
Being shafted by his own team made Jake see that there’s still a long way to go for LGBTQ+ people in sport.
Sharing his story is his way of helping. Shortly after he was kicked off his football team, Jake started using social media to speak out about his own experiences as a gay athlete.
He was amazed to discover that people were interested in what he had to say. He’s since become a sports ambassador for LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.
“I’m no one special – I just thought that I needed to have a voice and show that these are the difficulties that people face,” he says.
“I’ve seen the impact it’s had. The amount of messages I’ve had, the amount of people who’ve taken part in Q&As on Instagram – it is making a difference.”
A big part of the problem is the stark lack of representation across the board in men’s sports.
“I’ve played football for 20 years and I’m yet to meet an actively gay football player or manager,” Jake says.
“To me that is absolutely astounding.
“It says a lot about role models and feeling accepted in a community when there isn’t really a community to be part of.”
People still see being gay as a weakness
He’s determined to get to the root cause – to figure out why men’s football is still such a difficult environment for people to come out in.
Part of the problem lies with the sometimes toxic fan culture, he believes.
“It’s really difficult to be like, ‘Look, I’m gay.’… It’s not an unknown thing that people see it as a weakness.
“These players who are playing for the top clubs – Chelsea, Manchester United, Man City, etc – they’ve all gone through academy football. They’ve all gone through a system where there are no gay people in that system either.
“So for them, they’re not seeing [LGBTQ+ representation – they’re just focused on football, which is why people tend to come out after [they retire].”
Jake admits he doesn’t know if he would have come out if he had pursued a professional career.
“It’s only because I’ve stopped playing football and met my partner that I’ve realised it’s OK to be who I am.”
He wants to keep having these conversations so things will be better for kids starting off in football today.
“You should be able to enjoy sport without that weight on your shoulders,” he says.
“You can’t save the world, you can’t solve every issue under the sun, but that’s the route and the path I’ve had to navigate.
“I want to make that path easier for the next generation.”
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