Retired Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger last week publicly revealed he was gay, in a move reflecting the changing attitudes of acceptance of homosexuality in high profile sport.
The ex-German international confirmed the news on Thursday, and it is information that has been met with wide acceptance and grace as the mainstream sports culture begins to alter. Hitzlsperger is the first major European footballer to confirm such news, and proclaimed that he hopes his announcement will encourage others to follow suit if it will benefit them.
“I am coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards,” said Hitzlsperger, who hopes that his courage and subsequent support will show other sportsmen and women that modern culture openly accepts people of all sexual orientations, as well as race, creed and gender.
His announcement is a breakthrough; however, Hitzlsperger accepts that it will take a long time for all attitudes to change. His decision to come out to the mainstream media was a step forward for growing acceptance in the privacy of top football club changing rooms, as well as a step forward for himself.
Hitzlsperger retired from football last summer, following a season long spell with English club Everton. Hitzlsperger spent another season with West Ham prior to his time at Goodison Park; however, he first made his name during a five-year spell with Aston Villa from 2000-05. The German became famed for his thunderous left foot, scoring several impressive long-range goals for Villa.
He enjoyed his biggest success in his home nation, securing a Bundesliga championship in 2007 with VfB Stuttgart during his five-year tenure. The German also spent time with VfL Wolfsburg and Italian club, Lazio.
The midfielder represented Germany 52 times, scoring six goals and travelling to major tournaments such as the 2006 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2008, with his team finishing in third place and as runners up respectively.
Hitzlsperger announced the news also stating that he has only realized himself in recent years, and although he is the first former Premier League footballer to confirm the news, the German follows other high profile sportsmen on both sides of the Atlantic in confirming their sexual orientations.
L.A Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers has played for Championship club Leeds United previously, and announced early in 2013 that he was homosexual. Uniquely Rogers remains the only currently active footballer to have made the announcement, having retired briefly before starting back in the game with the Los Angeles team. He became the only player in English football to confirm his orientation since Justin Fashanu did so in 1990. Rogers’ offer back into football and out of retirement speaks volumes for the accepting attitudes of mainstream sports teams in the modern age, and represents huge steps forward for society.
Hitzlsperger also followed British Olympic hero Tom Daley, who in late 2013 announced that he was in a relationship with a man. After feeling pressure, Daley’s declaration was met with a hugely endearing response. As more high profile stars come forward with such news, it is proof that it is acceptable for others to follow suit. Met with encouragement and solace, it is hoped that players will feel more welcomed to share their news. Hitzlsperger’s announcement will only do the same.
It is necessary for the attention and support of the sport world to publicize such news in a comforting light to encourage more individuals to come forward. It is only this way that the culture of the sporting world will fully change to absolute acceptance of people from all walks of life. As more stars are welcomed to follow suit, every such announcement will be a breakthrough in the quest to completely acknowledge total equality.
How will Hitzlsperger’s announcement move forward the football world’s attitudes to homosexuality?