Jakub Jankto of Czech Republic looks on during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Czech Republic and Denmark at Baku Olimpiya Stadionu on July 03, 2021 in Baku, Azerbaijan Source: Valetin Ogirenko - Pool/Getty Images

'I Am Happy' – Out Soccer Star Jakub Jankto Reflects on His Life After Coming Out

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Czech player Jakub Jankto opened up in an interview about his life after coming out as gay earlier this year – something, he says, that he doesn't want to focus on now that he's done it.

The interview, which Jankto conducted with ESPN, got one misconception out of the way early: that being gay was a "choice" or a "change" in who he is.

No, Jankto said. He's always been gay. It's as simple as that. "I was born" gay, he told the outlet, and the only change has been in the fear around being gay, and coming out publicly.

"At 13, 14, I felt something ... different," Jankto reflected. "But you don't think too much about it." As for the moment last February when he came out, "I wasn't scared then," he said. "I was scared at 18, 19."

With time has come maturity. At age 27, he's put that fear aside. What's more, Jankto, having become a father when he was 22, has worked out his personal relationships. Markéta Ottomanská, Jankto's ex and the mother of his son, had "a tough time" when he came out to her at age 25, "but you keep talking."

"What matters is our son, him growing up; everything we do, we do for him," the athlete went on to say – a sentiment most parents, gay or straight, would understand.

Later on he came out to his his teammates; a month and a half after that, he decided to make the video in which he laid it out for the world to hear.

"I didn't want to hide," Jankto told ESPN, describing situations that could raise questions in a context where someone is still in the closet.

"Maybe I'm watching a YouTube video or a TikTok, or messaging someone, or you're dating guys, and you're scared someone will see it," the midfielder said. "You're hiding your phone. I didn't want to have to do that, that was a bad feeling."

"Maybe if I date a guy, I had to hide, too," the athlete added. "You weren't sure he wouldn't write" something about the relationship if it was hidden.

In short, "I couldn't do what I wanted with life, and I decided I had to speak."

His plain-spoken message – in which "Jankto became the first active male international player to come out as gay," ESPN noted – stirred hearts and thrilled fans. It also made headlines.

"My friend even said: 'Hey, that was the second-most watched video ever' in the Czech Republic," Jankto recalled. "And I just said: 'Why?'"

The answer to that question was obvious to another gay player, German soccer pro Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out following his retirement.

"It is huge, of course," Hitzlsperger told ESPN. "Jakub has proven you can be gay and play in one of the top five European leagues."

Added the former international player: "I would have loved to come out while still playing. I tried, but I was told not to, which was probably good advice at the time, as I wasn't strong enough."

Some may have wondered if Jankto was strong enough, himself, when, not long after coming out, he took time away from the sport following a traffic stop at which he passed a breathalyzer check, but declined to be tested for other intoxicants.

The team he was playing for, Sparta, issued a statement, saying, "After mutual agreement, it was decided that Jakub Jankto will not participate in training sessions with the first team and will concentrate on his personal situation."

At the time, Jankto cited his health. Speaking to ESPN, Jankto framed it as a matter of catching his breath.

"I needed some time to myself, to breathe," he told ESPN. "I had always been pushing, since I was 18.... I was always thinking about the football, about the professional aspect, but never thinking about myself, what I want to do. And so maybe in March, April, I say fucking hell – sorry for that word – I need some time for myself, you know?"

Jankto, who now plays with Caligari, says that at 27 he's "middle aged" in soccer terms, and he's got other projects going that can occupy him when he retires. Meanwhile, he seems to find the fascination with his status as an out international player to be something of a puzzle. He'd prefer it not to be.

"There's no campaign, no aspiration to create a new public profile or become an advocate," ESPN noted.

"I wanted it to be like: Once you give the message, stop talking about it. In February, it is finished there," Jankto explained. "I don't want to talk anymore to the coach, the directors, fans, players, anyone, about sexuality, about personal things. I want to work, to talk football, to give 100%."

In one way, now that he's come out, that is that, Jankto shared.

"People would ask what I expected when I played, if I expected whistles, comments," he recounted. "And I thought: Why is that a question? There's no reason. It's nothing."

"Nobody, nobody whistled, and it was so good. I'm happy about that. Very, very happy," he added.

Jankto isn't using his status as the first active international player to come out to press for other gay players to shed the confines of the closet, even though sheer numbers argue that there must be many gay players declining a public embrace of authenticity at this very moment.

"It's 2023, I don't want footballers to have to explain," Jankto said. "I feel good if, gay, hetero, they don't have to announce" their orientation "like a new thing, like I had to."

He's not blind to how meaningful being out is to fans and fellow players, though. "The first reason for coming out was myself, then maybe to help someone going through the same," the athlete said. "Maybe it is new in football, but it's not something bad, I think it's normal, and I think I gave a really good example, a great example, and now maybe people see that there is no reason to hide."

The pro athlete went on to add: "I cannot decide for other people. If they want to speak, OK, they speak. I just wanted to give a message to everybody."

"I think it went really, really good," Jankto said of the video in which he came out. "It finished there. I just wanted to give a message, and, yeah, now we just carry on."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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