- Only known current male top-flight professional to be out
- ‘It’s been a journey to get to this point in my life,’ he says
A-League Men midfielder Josh Cavallo says he knows there are other players “living in silence” after becoming the only known current male top-flight professional footballer in the world to come out as gay.
Cavallo on Wednesday became a rarity in men’s professional sport, announcing on social media he was “ready to speak about something personal that I’m finally comfortable to talk about in my life”. The Twitter post and emotive personal video, shared by his club Adelaide United, has since made international headlines and elicited support from all corners of the game.
“It’s been a journey to get to this point in my life, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to come out,” he wrote. “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.”
The 21-year-old Victorian is still in the infancy of his career, having come through the Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City youth team set-ups before making his A-League debut for Western United in the 2019-20 season. His off-season move to Adelaide preceded a breakout campaign with the Reds, for whom he made 19 appearances including 15 starts.
In June, having just been named the club’s rising star, he returned home from the awards night feeling “numb”.
“I had no emotions,” he said. “My life was great, but it wasn’t a life where I got to be my authentic self. Instead of celebrating, I sat in my bed crying that night. Having to constantly lie to the people I cared about wasn’t the way I wanted to live the rest of my life. My double life started to have a huge influence on my mental health.”
The public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. At home, teammates, clubs and fans of all ages and orientations have praised Cavallo, with some relaying their own experiences in coming to terms with their sexuality. They were joined by Australian women’s national team captain and Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, along with several other Matildas. Labor senate leader and openly gay woman, Penny Wong, tweeted: “Any young person who is struggling with their identity, or feeling excluded or judged, can look today to Josh Cavallo.”
Abroad, Antoine Griezmann, Gerard Piqué and Gary Lineker were among the male footballers past and present to voice support and joined a throng of major Premier League and European clubs. “I don’t have the pleasure to know you personally but I want to thank you for this step that you take,” Piqué tweeted. “The world of football is far behind and you are helping us move forward.”
Globally there are only a handful of openly gay male footballers, none of whom are playing in the top flight. Thomas Hitzlsperger, the German former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton player is among the most high profile but waited until the year after he retired in 2013 before coming out publicly.
American former Leeds player Robbie Rogers also announced he was gay on retiring in 2013, before returning to the field with LA Galaxy and winning the MLS Cup to become the first openly gay male athlete to win a major professional team sports title in the United States.
In 2019, former Newcastle Jets player Andy Brennan became Australia’s first professional male footballer to come out while still playing the game.
Cavallo said he had been worried that coming out may negatively impact his career, adding that he knew there were 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,” he wrote. “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. Hopefully this will change in the near future.
“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 broke the news publicly with the full support of his family, friends and club. Reds chief executive Nathan Kosmina and coach Carl Veart both expressed pride in their player and teammate Ben Halloran, praised the “great courage” needed to make this announcement. “It’s sadly still very rare in the sporting world for men to come out,” Halloran said.
Assistant coach, Ross Aloisi, said: “Before Josh spoke with me, it was clear he was living with an incredible burden and unimaginable pain. To see Josh today, with that weight lifted off his shoulders, it makes me proud of how brave a man he is.
“Josh’s mental health and wellbeing is the most important thing to us as his coaches and teammates. Josh will always be Josh to us.”
(By Emma Kemp, The Guardian, 27.10.2021)