Coming out as a gay male professional footballer is arguably the last taboo in the world’s most popular sport.
To date, it is estimated there are only 13 players to publicly come out – almost all after their playing days had ended.
Today, Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United has decided to speak his truth and become the first (and, so far, as we are aware, the only) current male professional player to break that taboo. Here is his story – as told to Simon Hill.
It begins at the back end of last season, a campaign in which Josh had excelled with the Reds…
“After participating in a successful season in the red shirt, signing a new long-term deal and receiving the rising star award, football was an exciting time for me. Something I've always dreamt about was starting to become a reality.
I remember coming back from the Awards Night and my phone was blowing up – there was lots of positivity happening in my life. But when I got home, I just felt numb. I had no emotions. 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. Although the football was amazing, I still wasn’t happy.
Adelaide United had become like another family to me. From the day I first got there my coaches became somewhat fatherly figures, and my team-mates became like my brothers.
But my whole career I had tried to distance myself, to swerve conversations, in order to avoid getting caught out. It’s the normal locker room talk – who are you seeing? Who is the lucky girl? I had to learn to live a life of lies. To live that double life and lie to your brothers is horrible. It’s something I don’t want anyone to experience.
I am with my team-mates six days a week for most of the day, but being my authentic self was something I was afraid of communicating to them. There were times when I was in the changing rooms thinking of how I was going to continue living the footballer's life and not be my true self.
I don’t like to show weakness, and I felt that being true to myself was going to be seen as a weakness towards my peers. That fear of being treated differently - because they knew I was gay - concerned me.
I naturally isolated myself away from my peers to avoid any type of questioning in the spotlight. I experienced a type of sadness and depression I don’t wish on anyone.
Returning back home to Melbourne in the off-season, all I wanted to do was set myself free and be happy. Lying started to become a habit that I used unconsciously to avoid awkward conversations, and it started to affect my relationship with my family.
I avoided spending time with my loved ones, so I wouldn't have to lie to them. To hide secrets from the closest people in your life is horrible. I’m a family man, and it broke my heart having to live six years of my life knowing I had a secret I couldn't talk to anyone about because I was ashamed. Ashamed to disappoint.
I remember reading about Justin Fashanu becoming the first male pro footballer to come out in the 1990s, and then eight years later, taking his own life. That did concern me.
But 30 years later, Thomas Beattie came out – he was only the second pro footballer in UK history to do so. He came out in June 2020, and his story touched me. He was living a life identical to mine. Since then, he has become one of my closest friends, and made me feel comfortable to be in my own skin. He is a brother, a friend, a role model, and truly an inspiration for my coming out journey.
In 2013, American international, Robbie Rogers, retired soon after coming out, because he struggled to deal with the scrutiny it attracted. Although he later returned to playing, he once said “It was impossible to be gay in football” – I was worried about that too.
But through the support I have had, Adelaide United has made me realise football is more than just a game – it is a family. Adelaide United have played a big part in me being able to be my authentic self. It’s a club culture that doesn’t come around too often.
I hope to get a positive reaction from fans and team-mates – because already, I feel a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
I also hope that examples such as myself and Thomas can change things for the next generation. Statistics show only 33% of young gay men play football in comparison to 68% of young straight men. That’s a lot of wasted young players missing out – players that could be very talented, but who don’t fit the norm. Perhaps we can play a part in saying that football accepts everyone – that you are all welcome?
Coming to terms with being myself has been a very isolating and lonely journey. Football has been my safe haven. Being on the pitch was where I could concentrate on playing and winning. So the game, on some level, has saved me from going to that darker place.
I’m still me, the exact same person you saw yesterday. I know what the battle is like, so I will fight for others who embark on that journey.
But right now, today, I am proud to speak my truth.”