In his statement Cavallo said, ‘Growing up, I always felt the need to hide myself because I was ashamed. I’ve had to learn to mask my feelings in order to fit the mould of a professional footballer.’
He further expressed how he felt he was leading a ‘double life,’ and how hiding a huge part of his identity became mentally and emotionally exhausting.
‘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,’ he continued in the clip posted to Adelaide’s Twitter account.
But any looming worries about the negative consequences coming out could have on his career were trumped by the prospect of helping other players who he knows are living in silence.
It’s an incredibly brave step to take at a young age, especially while in the prime years as a footballer – one that no other has dared to take.
The small number who have come out have done so once their player careers had ended.
Over the last decade, the media has begun spotlighting how social issues spill over into the realm of professional sport.
In the UEFA-produced documentary Outraged, well-known footballers were invited to discuss their lived experiences of racism and discrimination during their time spent on the pitch.
Thomas Hitzlsperger, a former Premier League player for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, told viewers about hiding his sexuality throughout his years playing professional football.
‘I wanted to come out while I was still playing because I knew it would have a huge impact, but my closest friends thought that it was a bad idea. It took me just too long to be brave enough.’
With over 120,000 men playing the sport professionally around the world, it’s no doubt that there are dozens more who feel it isn’t possible to live their truth without experiencing some kind of judgement.
In July 2020, Sky News obtained a letter from an unnamed English Premier League footballer. The handwritten letter was first addressed to the Justin Fashanu Foundation and detailed the player’s experienced torment from keeping his sexuality a secret.
The unsigned letter read: ‘I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me. Only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or manager.’
‘How does it feel having to live like this? Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more. I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse,’ it continued.
Meanwhile, football legend Rio Ferdinand has been speaking to MPs about a forthcoming Online Safety Bill in light of the severity of abuse players face on social media.
During his advocacy efforts, Ferdinand met with a current player who was advised not to come out by his lawyer. Rio would not state a name, but said:
‘Initially, I was like, “Wow, you need to come out and say your truth and be proud of who you are.” But the reason why the lawyer advised him not to come out is that he didn’t think [the player] was strong enough mentally at that time… to be able to withstand the media attention, the spotlight, all the different emotions and pressures to deal with that situation.’
With that knowledge, it should be unsurprising that Rio was amongst the first pundits to congratulate Josh Cavallo’s courageous announcement.
The outpouring of support from major clubs and famous players around the world is proof that perceptions and attitudes have changed with the football community.
But this can only be fully realised when individuals muster the courage to step up and speak out.
Josh Cavallo’s decision will inevitably become a huge marker of progress in the world of football and for any athlete who feel pressured to mask who they are in order to preserve a successful career in sport.
Every day, traditional ideals about ‘who can do what’ are being broken. Hats off to you lad, and here’s to hoping that more footballers feel inspired to live their truth in the near future.