Thomas Hitzlsperger: Coming out as a gay footballer is ‘impossible’

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Ex-premiership footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger says it would have been “impossible” to come out as gay during his career.

In January, the 31-year-old made headlines around the world, after he revealed he is gay to a German newspaper.

However, despite the recent push of the rainbow laces campaign to combat homophobia in football, Hitzlsperger says there is still a long way to go before a premiership star can come out and continue playing.

In an interview with the Metro, he said: “We must do the groundwork now so gay players in the future can come out if they want to and be accepted in the dressing room and in the grounds.

“For me it would have been almost impossible had I still been playing – not because of the fans or the other players, but because of the media.

“In an ideal world it shouldn’t (matter) but we’re in 2014 and we’re still talking about it.”
Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out, in 1990, before he took his own life eight years later, aged 37.

Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen – son of former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen – came out in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.

Former Leeds and US winger Robbie Rogers came out as gay and quit English football in February 2013.

He later reversed his decision to quit the game and signed for LA Galaxy – but as of yet Rogers has no plans to return to the English league, having previously feared the ramifications of coming out.

“I don’t know if football is such a homophobic environment,” Hitzlsperger said. “People just speculate this would be the case.

“Since we haven’t seen a gay footballer in the Premier League or the Bundesliga, it’s hard to say that this would happen. We would have to wait and see.

“I didn’t really know what to expect now. I just decided it was the right moment for me to do this and not really thinking about the reaction.

“Gay football players are invisible. There are none we know of and that’s why I don’t know how people will react to it.”

Figures in the world of football and politics, including Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton yesterday praised Hitzlsperger for his openness.

On his Facebook page, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “As an Aston Villa fan, I’ve always admired what Thomas Hitzlsperger did on the pitch – but I admire him even more today. A brave & important move.”

In a message to Hitzlsperger’s Twitter account, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he had “huge respect” for the recently retired premiership player.

Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “His courage sends a message to young people: sport is for anyone, regardless of sexuality.”

Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant said to “It’s great news that Thomas Hitzlsperger has had the courage to come out today. While we have made great progress in shifting attitudes towards  the gay community, there are still many people who have hidden or who are still hiding their sexuality, through fear of homophobia. There is still more we can all do to help tackle homophobia in sport.”