A lot of people want Josh Cavallo dead.
Not that you know it from the way the 23-year-old performs.
It’s been 17 months since the Adelaide United midfielder became – at the time – the world’s only top male professional footballer. gay dating – and since then, his social media accounts have been a beacon of positivity.
‘Live your truth’. ‘Embrace your individuality’. ‘Be you’.
Alongside each post are photos of the Aussie with the laid-back smile of a man who has come to terms with who he is.
But don’t kid yourself. Death threats keep coming.
“They catch you when you least expect it,” Cavallo says.
“And most of the time I’m fine, I’m fine, because it’s just somebody’s insecurity. But sometimes I’m at home on my phone and bang, it pops up, and it’s something you don’t really want to think about.
“It’s sometimes difficult because it’s been almost two years now and there are still death threats against me. Is that acceptable? Of course not, it’s disgusting.
“But I know that, to pave the way for others in the world, I have to go through it. And I know who I’m doing it for, which is the people who suffer in silence.”
‘The best way I can describe it is a 24/7 act’
Cavallo knows exactly what it’s like to experience a solitary struggle with sexuality.
A player who has done a lot to change the sport had no intention of getting into football when he was growing up in Victoria.
“Me and my brother were playing in the garden and it was something I had a lot of fun with,” Cavallo recalled.
“He’s a football fanatic and he was the one who was supposed to be successful. He knew all about it, got up early in the morning to watch every game… I was just following. But I started to get a little more serious with that, and I landed my first professional contract at 16.”
But it was at 16 that Cavallo realized he was gay. He was about to embark on a career in a sport where people like him didn’t exist.
For years, the Aussie hid his sexuality.
“I didn’t tell my brother, I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t tell my family or my friends,” he says.
“The best way I can describe it is a 24/7 act. When I’m getting ready for training, when I’m changing in the locker room, when I’m taking a drink break…it was literally every little incident during the day.
“And then it was coming home afterwards and not hanging out with friends because I didn’t want to give clues, so you isolate yourself. I wanted to isolate myself from everyone so they didn’t have no suspicious behavior.
“It’s a mask that you have to put on and pretend to be someone else, and that’s really difficult – especially when you’re trying to raise your game in football and be the best person you can be. .”
“Do you know how many times I’ve typed this message and deleted it?”
It was a dark time for Cavallo.
Finally, he realized that something had to change.
The Aussie had heard the story of Thomas Beattie – the former Hull City youth player who would come out gay in 2020 – and nervously, shyly, decided to send her a message.
“Do you know how many times I’ve typed this, deleted it, thought I can’t do this?” said Cavallo.
“So messaging Thomas was definitely a brave step, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. He opened his arms and took me under his wing, and I knew what I was doing. I said was in a safe space.
“It gave me the confidence to carry on, until I said to Tommy, ‘I don’t want to be like this. I want to go out.””
Having made this decision, Cavallo began to reveal to people the secret he had kept for so long.
The first were his coaches at Adelaide United.
“I sat down with them and explained to them what was going on, and they understood perfectly,” he says. “If anything, they were kind of sad that I had to hide it for so long.
“After that, I went out and trained, and I felt like 10 kilos of weight was on my shoulders. It was the best thing ever, and there were only two people there. who knew!
“The next day we had a big huddle with everyone in the locker room and I basically announced who I was. Everyone in that room had tears in their eyes, which was so nice because those people are become like your brothers and I hadn’t seen that side of them before.
“So to celebrate this together, such a big milestone in my life…I couldn’t be more proud of how they all behaved. It made me wonder why I’ve been in hiding for so long.
“After that, I walked to my car, hit the ‘publish’ button on the video, put my phone in my glove box and drove home. And from there, my life changed quite quickly!”
“I had a hug all over the world – but going out was to make me happy”
Ah yes, this video.
Tweeted by Adelaide United with a two-word caption – ‘Josh’s Truth’ – it has now been viewed over 11 million times. The world saw Cavallo speak publicly about his sexuality for the first time.
“It was like I got a big hug from everyone,” said the Australian.
“It was fantastic to see the allies reach out and say, ‘Congratulations, that’s awesome.’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David de Gea, Antoine Griezmann – the list goes on!
“But for me, I wasn’t dependent on a reaction. Going out wasn’t to make other people happy, it was to make me happy – and good or bad, I had won the race. C It was amazing to see the reaction from the public, but even if it didn’t go well, I would still be exactly the way I am now.”
So first and foremost, Cavallo did it for himself. But his decision helped inspire other men in football to speak up too.
Players such as Jacques Daniels And Sander Murray stressed the importance of Cavallo’s story in their own exit journeys – and the Australian says he is in regular contact with other men in the sport who are considering the same step, albeit at some point which suits them.
He also uses his platform to promote greater equality in sport, with initiatives such as the first-ever A-League Pride Round, and denouncing the repression of LGBTQ+ people around the world, condemning Uganda’s New Anti-Homosexuality Bill as “disgusting”.
However, this comes at a cost.
“The thing for me now is yes, you see the happy story and the positive vibes, which is fantastic,” Cavallo said.
“But I can open my phone and see countless death threat messages, and there have been games where I’ve been the victim of homophobic abuse. And it’s going to happen.”
There is a moment of thought, before her smile returns.
“But overall I’m pretty strong,” he says.
“And every time that happens, I think of the times when I’ve had people stop me and say how much of an impact I’ve had on them. I try to turn it into a positive, and not don’t care what anyone else thinks about me, as long as i’m doing the right thing and helping people be themselves and live their lives.
“So you know what? You can send me all the hate and death threats you want. I’m not going to change my behavior.”
Josh Cavallo was talking to Jack Murley on the BBC’s LGBT Sport podcast. You can hear new episodes each Wednesday .