Josh Cavallo's friend and former footballer Thomas Beattie has described the support he was able to give the Adelaide United midfielder before he came out publicly.
Cavallo, 21, made global headlines and top-trended on social media on Wednesday when he published an emotional video to his social media accounts in which he explained how he had been struggling for six years as a result of his sexuality.
However, having come out to his Adelaide United coaches a few weeks ago and received the full support of his A-League club before then telling his team-mates, he described how he was now ready to share his truth with the wider public.
In doing so, he has become the only active player in a top-flight league in the men's professional game anywhere in the world to have come out as gay or bisexual.
In a first-person article shared with Australian news channel Network 10, Cavallo described how the personal account of Thomas Beattie - once on the books of his local club Hull City before he moved abroad to play professionally in Canada and Singapore - had inspired him.
Beattie retired in 2015 after suffering a serious head injury while playing for his club side Warriors FC. He came out publicly in June 2020.
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Speaking to Sky Sports News, Beattie explained how Cavallo reached out to him earlier this year.
"First and foremost, I wanted to be there for him and just tell him that I understood some of the emotions he was going through," said Beattie.
"I advised him not to rush, to be patient and to take it at his own pace.
"I also told him that everyone's journey is different, that his journey is not going to be the same as mine. But I also wanted to reassure him that he would be OK and the moment he decides to embrace and accept himself, there's going to be a huge community of people that will accept him with open arms."
So proud of my little brother @JoshuaCavallo who just came out as the only openly Gay footballer in the Australian A league and the only current player in a top division. Visibility and representation matters!! The world is a better place for your courage! Legend! pic.twitter.com/TpNrGrKAgA— Thomas Beattie (@IamTomBeattie) October 27, 2021
Cavallo's news was indeed welcomed by famous names from across the world of football, such as Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jordan Henderson, Sam Kerr and Gary Lineker, as well as celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Courtney Act. Multiple clubs and organisations, including FIFA, also tweeted congratulatory messages.
It was a journey into the unknown for the young midfielder, who won the A-League's Rising Star award a few months ago after an impressive breakthrough season, but Beattie is sure he will ultimately benefit from being his authentic self.
"There are not many people who have gone through that process," said the 35-year-old, who is now a successful entrepreneur. "I came out after I'd finished playing so for Josh, there were still a lot of new things to go through.
"He was a little bit apprehensive but he was ready. Living two lives is really tough - he wanted to combine them both and just exist, treated equally as the rest of his teammates were. Now he can focus on playing to the best of his ability and feel that liberation."
It's really tough to pinpoint and say that there will be a knock-on effect. We hope there will be. I know Josh is going to inspire many people inside and outside of sport.
In an interview with Sky Sports shortly after he came out, Beattie described how he allowed football to distract him from questions about his own sexuality to such an extent that it had a profoundly negative effect on his mental health.
"As an athlete, your body follows what your mind tells you to do. When your mind is so preoccupied with these lies and avoiding things, it's really difficult.
"I'm just so happy for Josh that he gets to live his truth now and there's no more hiding for him. Mentally, he's free to use every bit of energy to focus on doing what he does best, which is playing football."
Beattie hopes both Cavallo's story and his own can continue to resonate with footballers in the men's game and - for any who are in a similar position - provide a glimpse of what life on the other side of coming out might look like.
"It's a strange feeling at first because you get so used to hiding certain topics of your life," he added.
"But it's super liberating to just be yourself. I’ve been so much more productive and so much happier.
"When I came out, I wanted to do two things - set myself free and then find purpose in the pain. That meant using my voice and my platform to help others do the same. So with Josh coming out with some guidance from myself, it's very fulfilling for me and adds purpose to why I decided to do this."
The new A-League campaign begins on November 19 when Cavallo will be aiming to hold down a starting berth for Adelaide United, who were beaten semi-finalists in the playoffs after finishing fifth in the regular-season league table.
He was capped at Australia Under-20 level three years ago and has spoken of his ambition to play for the Socceroos at the Olympics. He is also eligible at international level for Malta, where his parents were born.
Beattie hopes the young midfielder, who also plays at left-back, won't be the only out footballer in a top-flight men's league for too long. However, he is cautiously optimistic, acknowledging the varying levels of LGBTQ+ rights globally and other pressures on players, such as media scrutiny and the potential for abuse.
"There so are many moving parts around it. It's not even safe for some people in different countries [to come out] so it's really tough to pinpoint and say that there will be a knock-on effect," he explained.
"I know Josh is going to inspire many people inside and outside of sport. Whether they will come out and follow in his footsteps, I'm not too sure.
"But I'd like to think that they will and as society evolves, it becomes more normalised. By him coming out and being really visible and representing for the community, I think it's only a good thing. More people - we hope - will follow."
Cavallo: I know what being in the shadows feels like
Cavallo spoke to Sky Sports News from Adelaide via Zoom on Wednesday, as his personal news continued to capture the imagination of the public.
"I want to get a message across to the world to show that it doesn't matter who you are, what you believe in or what culture or background you come from, everyone is accepted in football. It should be based on your talent not on what you look like or believe in.
"At the end of the day, we are in 2021 and it's time to change this in football. To have this day today, I'm so overwhelmed and happy with the response I've received.
"I was very shocked and taken aback by the fact that the news went around the world. I am so honoured and grateful that clubs are getting around me, players are getting around me and I'll get round to replying to everyone eventually, I am grateful for your support so thank you everyone.
"I struggled a lot not being able to look up to someone and knowing that no one has done this before so it was hard for me to come out and it took me about six years. So I understand the pain, I know what it feels like to be in the shadows and live a double life and lie to the people that you care about."
There are no active players who are publicly out as gay or bisexual in the men's game in any of the professional leagues in England or Scotland, and there has never been an out player in the Premier League.
Cavallo added: "I know there is someone behind a screen around the world where someone has gone through the same thing as I have.
"So if I can make it easier for them and show what a great response I'm getting, then that should make them more comfortable to be themselves and I hope in the next few years that no one has to do what I did today.
"It was a very hard, isolating process. I found myself excluding myself from the team, not in a bad way but just to protect myself, I would take myself away from situations like going out for coffees with my team-mates and spending time outside football with my team-mates because I didn't want to get asked questions and tell lies and get caught up in those lies.
"So it's a very isolating and lonely process and I don't want anyone else to go through what I experienced.
"I'm still the same person and the same player. If anything, this is going to enhance my career for the better. I can play freely now so I'm just proud I can do that."
'Yes I play football and yes, I'm gay, what's wrong with that?'
Not only does Cavallo feel encouraged by the response to him publicly coming out as gay, he thinks the announcement will advance his own career and feels grateful for the support he has received from his team-mates and club staff at Adelaide United.
He added: "It started off with my coaches when I told them about four or five weeks ago. I wasn't expecting the reaction I got from them, they wrapped their arms around me and made me realise that it's OK to be yourself.
"They said: 'We're not going to treat you any differently, we're going to treat you like the Josh we knew before' and that really gave me the confidence to expand out to the team and to show that I'm not afraid to show who I am. Yes I play football and yes, I'm gay, what's wrong with that?
"I had the best training session after that [telling my coaches]. It felt so good just to tell two people and knowing that they were OK with it in the football industry, it was phenomenal.
"I can't wait to get back out on the pitch and now that everyone knows, my team-mates know and everyone is cool with it."
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