Yesterday, A-League midfielder and Adelaide United star Josh Cavallo opened up about being a closeted footballer, releasing a statement on social media that not only saw him come out as gay, but also shone a spotlight on the culture surrounding professional sport that sees so many male players live in silence. Cavallo becomes the only known current male top-flight professional footballer in the world to come out as gay as he announced he was finally ready “to speak about something personal that I’m finally comfortable to talk about in my life.”
In a social media post, the Adelaide United star posted an emotional video that has since been shared by his own club as well as making international headlines and eliciting support from all corners of the game. Just in Australia, the news was a sobering reminder that despite how far we’ve come in terms of visibility and representation for the LGBTQ community, such attitudes aren’t reflected in sport.
“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,” wrote Cavallo. “I have been fighting my sexuality for over six years now, and I’m glad I can put that to rest.”
Cavallo added: “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 words that hadn’t crossed paths before. I’ve lived my life assuming that this was a topic never to be spoken about.”
While still only in the infancy of his career, Cavallo’s trajectory seems one destined for great success. Having come through the Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City youth team set-ups, he later made his A-League debut for Western United in the 2019-20 season before an off-season move to Adelaide where he made 19 appearances, including 15 starts with the Reds. Just recently, he was named the club’s rising star. Even so, the accolades and the accomplishments still left Cavallo feeling numb.
“I had no emotions,” he explained. “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.”
Cavallo’s story is one many found comfort in and it seems certain that for young kids, it serves as encouragement to embrace your own identity, to be yourself, and still dare to chase your dreams. Australian women’s national team captain and Chelsea striker, Sam Kerr, praised Cavallo on social media, while 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.”
International footballers Antoine Greizmann, Gerard Pique and Gary Lineker also voiced their support for the young star. “I don’t have the pleasure to know you personally but I want to thank you for this step that you take,” tweeted Pique. “The world of football is far behind and you are helping us move forward.”
Assistant coach, Ross Aloisi, said: “Before Josh spoke to 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.”
Before coming out, Cavallo had worried that he may negatively impact his career as 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 selves,” 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.”