Thank you Mr Hitzlsperger.
He’s played for Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham and earned 52 caps for the German national team. He’s known in Germany as ‘Der Hammer’ and has just come out as gay to the German newspaper Die Zeit. Thomas Hitzlsperger is 31, recently retired and the new face of gay sport (sorry Tom…).
Confirming what we all knew: it’s tough to be gay in football, freekick supremo Hitzlsperger has revealed how it has only been in the last few years that he has discovered and come to terms with his sexuality. He spoke to Die Zeit of having to put up with homophobic jokes from team mates in the dressing room, and while he was never ashamed of being gay, how he often felt uncomfortable.
It’s no wonder Hitzlsperger felt the need to wait until his retirement to be able to say it publicly. Whilst the world may seem to have changed dramatically since the tragic and harrowing days of the Justin Fashanu suicide-by-press, the homophobic atmosphere that Hitzlsperger describes makes it clear that gay has a long way to go to reach acceptance in footballing circles.
I don’t want to undermine Thomas Hitzlberger’s bravery in his decision to come out, in fact, I have the utmost respect for him, fully knowing the difficulty we all may have in coming out, but I am equally saddened by the pressure he felt to delay the decision to come out until his retirement.
Despite Anton Hysen, Robbie Rogers, Gareth Thomas and Tom Daley increasing LGBT visibility in sport, in general there is an all too pervasive attitude of silence around sexuality.
I never made the decision to hide my sexuality with my water polo team. In fact, they were all great and I never hit a problem at training or socially with them. It’s outside that I hit problems. ‘Don’t you get a boner in your speedos?’ ‘Do you play it for the speedos?’ and ‘Don’t you ever cop a feel?’ are questions that usually crop up after I tell people.
They’re not intrinsically homophobic questions, and in fact they come from both gay and straight men and women. The questions do, however, betray a general sense of disbelief that gay men can and do play sport in a competitive environment, for nothing more than the competition and enjoyment. It’s this disbelief that allows more malicious homophobia to flourish unchallenged.
All in all, a gay sporting figure can never be a bad thing for the public image of sport and we can never express disapproval of the timing of Mr Hitzlsperger’s coming out. It is, after all, a personal choice, and there are other factors that will have certainly influenced him – perhaps not wanting too much media attention in the last few months of his career.
I can, however, only hope that Herr Hitzlsperger uses his public image to really challenge the atmosphere of homophobia he’s described suffering at the hands of. For the betterment of all those gayboys playing sport around the world who feel that they can’t be out and maintain a professional or competitive air due to the perception of their sexuality.