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

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.

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."

In a statement as well as in the video and in various interviews, Cavallo 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.”

Cavallo also said that 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, it just slowly eats away at you and it's not something I wish upon anyone. I thought people would think of me differently when they found out. That 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," he told the BBC's Newshour program, Sky Sports News and other outlets.

In many ways, gay and bisexual men are more represented in soccer than in other sports. 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 selves.

His decision to speak out (with the full support of his teammates and the Australian Soccer Federation) shows that, in 2021, it just doesn't have to be that way anymore.

Few elite male soccer 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.

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 U.S.

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."

Pier Angelo was born in Italy, moved to England at the age of 17 and learned English at the Nelson School of English. He attended college and graduate school in Manhattan. In 2009 he founded SFGN with Norm Kent. Now he’s retired with his husband Tom and his Affenpinscher Cabbage. He still enjoys writing his column Off The Wall for SFGN.