Josh Cavallo: 'I'm a footballer and I'm gay,' says Australian player

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"It's my freedom day and I’ve never been so happy" – Josh Cavallo speaks to the BBC

Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo has come out as gay, becoming the only current top-flight male professional footballer in the world to do so.

The 21-year-old wrote on social media that he was "ready to speak about something personal that I'm finally comfortable to talk about in my life".

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay," the midfielder said in an accompanying video.

"All I want to do is play football and be treated equally."

'Fighting with my sexuality'

Josh said he was tired of trying to perform at his best "and to live this double life, it's exhausting".

"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."

"I have been fighting with my sexuality for six years now, and I'm glad I can put that to rest."

Josh says it got to the point his mental health was affected and he was "going into dark places".

"At the end of the day I just wanted to be happy. This is bigger than football, it's my life. I'd go home and I wasn't happy," he told the BBC's Newshour programme.

"It just slowly eats away at you and it's not something I wish upon anyone."

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He thought "people would think of me differently when they found out".

"They would start saying bad things about me or making fun out of me. That's not the case. If anything you would earn more respect from people."

Analysis by Jack Murley, presenter of the BBC's LGBT Sport Podcast

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

Those six words may not sound like much, but Josh Cavallo's decision to open up about his sexuality is hugely significant.

He's chosen to speak while still an active player - something that marks him out from the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger, who only came out publicly after retiring.

In many ways, gay and bisexual men are more represented in football than you think.

There are out players at the non-league level of the English football pyramid, as well as gay referees like Ryan Atkin and James Adcock.

But to have a top-level professional like Josh Cavallo feel comfortable enough to come out while still playing is a huge step - and, as evidenced by the reaction on social media, a welcome one as well.

As Josh himself says, too many men have felt as if the only way to be successful in football is by hiding their sexuality - with many choosing to step away from the game altogether rather than being their authentic self.

His decision to speak out (with the full support of his team-mates) shows that, in 2021, it just doesn't have to be that way anymore.

Few elite male football players have come out as gay during their careers.

Andy Brennan became the first former Australian League player to come out in 2019 when the ex-Newcastle Jet was still playing in a lower tier.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay after retiring from the sport.

In 1990, Justin Fashanu came out as gay. He took his own life in 1998 after allegations of sexual assault were made against him by a 17-year-old in the US.

Thomas Beattie, a former youth player for English club Hull City came out in 2020, and said he was proud of Josh, adding "visibility and representation matters".

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Josh's statement has sparked an outpouring of support for him, which he's called "immense".

Australia's professional players union said it was a "wonderful moment" for him, the sport and "the LGBTI+ community".

"Coming out as a gay footballer in the public eye takes incredible courage," says Liz Ward, director of programmes at Stonewall.

"His brave decision will undoubtedly mean a lot to lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer sportspeople around the world, who are too-often held back from playing and watching the sports they love."

Josh says before coming out, he had to "mask my feelings in order to fit the mould of a professional footballer."

"That's a lot of wasted young players missing out - players that could be very talented, but who don't fit the norm."

"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," he added.

Newsbeat has contacted Josh's management but they've not yet responded.

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