Original article from Kent Live
Sheppey United footballer Jahmal Howlett-Mundle received a round of applause from teammates earlier this week when he came out as bisexual.
The defender gathered his colleagues at the side of a pitch to come out to them in a brave and important move that helps break down homophobia that still remains in the sport.
Jahmal spoke to the club after coming out and admitted he would "be a better version of the Jahmal you already know" from here on.
He said: "I’m not the type of person to reveal large parts of my personal life and usually keep myself to myself.
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"I certainly felt it was the right time to be honest with myself and my loved ones and by being open about my sexuality, maybe it will give others the confidence to follow suit.
“Football still has room for improvement in terms of players coming out and being themselves, but with the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie having done so, it’s slowly starting to evolve."
Hitzlsperger played for clubs including Everton and West Ham United and came out as gay in 2014, having retired from the sport in 2013.
Beattie turned out for clubs across the United States and Singapore in his professional career before coming out as gay in 2020.
Jahmal joins a slowly growing number of lower league players who have come out. Others include Liam Davis, who came out as gay in 2014, when playing for Gainsborough Trinity, and current Ashford Town manager Luke Tuffs.
Despite the efforts of proud players such as Jahmal, homophobia is still rife in the sport.
Recent studies from Out on the Fields (2015) and OutSport (2019) found that 80 per cent of participants had witnessed homophobia in sport and 78 per cent believed an openly gay person 'would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event'.
Statistics such as those and behaviour from fans are reasons why no active professional players have come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
At the time, Fashanu faced backlash from colleagues and fans alike, later revealing that he had not been offered a full-time contract after his coming out.
However, with a growing number of LGBTQ+ sporting stars speaking out and representing the community, players like Sheppey's Jahmal believe that progress is beginning to be made in the sport.
Jahamal said: "We have seen other sports people like Gareth Thomas (Rugby) and Tom Daley (Diving) come out years ago and they are great role models for people like me."
Daley, who is one of 168 LGBTQ+ athletes currently competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games, won gold in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition.
In his press conference, he said: "When I was a little boy, I felt like an outsider, and felt different, and I felt like I was never going to be anything, because who I was wasn’t what society wanted me to be.
"And to be able to see out LGBT people performing at the Olympic Games, I hope [that] can give young kids hope and [to] not feel so frightened and scared and alone, and to be able to see that no matter who you are, where you come from, you can become an Olympic champion, because I did.”
Jahmal echoed Daley's words after coming out earlier this week and hopes he can inspire other players to speak openly about their sexuality.
He said: “I believe I’ll be a better version of the Jahmal you already know. Whatever anyone’s sexuality, you should not be treated any differently – I’m just as hungry as any other player to step onto the football pitch and give my all to win for our team and our supporters.
“I always wished I had somebody that looked like me, that grew up where I grew up and played football to look up to when I was younger."