Jake Daniels, the only openly homosexual male footballer in the United Kingdom, has expressed his disappointment regarding Jordan Henderson’s decision to relocate to Saudi Arabia. Daniels perceives this move as a personal betrayal, especially after receiving support from the English national player. Daniels, who is a member of the Blackpool football team, gained significant attention in May 2022 when he became the first active male professional player in 32 years to publicly disclose his homosexuality, following in the footsteps of Justin Fashanu in 1990. Henderson had previously reached out to Daniels with words of encouragement during that period, making his subsequent transfer from Liverpool to Saudi Arabia profoundly impact the 18-year-old. During an interview with the BBC, Daniels disclosed that Henderson had expressed his support by stating, “We admire your achievements.” However, witnessing his decision to relocate to Saudi Arabia felt like a personal blow. I suppose the lucrative financial aspect must hold great significance for individuals, even outweighing other values and principles.
Henderson received backlash for joining Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia, a nation that criminalizes same-sex relationships. Activists and supporters highlighted the apparent contradiction between Henderson’s previous advocacy for LGBTQI+ rights and his subsequent choice to move there. During a September interview, Henderson vehemently refuted any alteration in his position regarding LGBTQ+ matters and conveyed his emotional pain in response to the suggestion.
Nevertheless, Daniels characterized Henderson’s action as “exasperating” and disclosed that they have not communicated since then. Another individual involved in the field, who had reached out to Daniels before departing for Saudi Arabia, was Steven Gerrard, the current manager of Henderson at Al-Ettifaq. Daniels expressed their frustration, stating, “I had a face-to-face meeting with him [Gerrard] and he told me, ‘If you ever need to reach out, just message me’ – but he relocated. It was exasperating that so many people relocated.” Daniels expressed his worries about the forthcoming World Cup event that is scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2034, after the previous tournament in Qatar, where homosexuality is also considered illegal. He mentioned that there was some progress being made, but the Qatar World Cup set us back. If he were to participate in the World Cup and travel there, he wouldn’t feel secure, jeopardizing his career in football.
Recognizing his position as one of the few openly homosexual male football players, Daniels acknowledged the importance of his statement. He brought up Jakub Jankto from Cagliari and Josh Cavallo from Adelaide United as the sole top-tier players worldwide who have openly acknowledged their sexuality. Daniels characterized the process of coming out as both astonishing and life-changing, expressing, “The journey since coming out has been mind-blowing. I never anticipated it would garner such attention. The support I’ve received and the individuals I’ve encountered, it’s been an extraordinary ordeal. Embracing my true self was the greatest decision I’ve ever made. It has even improved my performance on the field.”