Thomas Hitzlsperger, a former World Cup player from Germany, became the biggest name in world football to come out as gay, saying he wants to break down the stigma of homosexuality in sports.
The former Bayern Munich midfielder, who played with Benni McCarthy at West Ham United and was well-known as ‘the Hammer’, made the announcement today in German newspaper Die ZEIT four months after he retired from football.
“I am expressing my sexuality because I want to promote the discussion of homosexuality among professional athletes,” Hitzlsperger said.
The 31-year-old Hitzlsperger said he felt now was the right time to approach a subject he felt was “simply ignored.”
“Only in the last few years did it dawn on me that I would rather live with a man,” said Hitzlsperger, the first German player to announce he is gay.
Hitzlsperger represented Germany at the 2006 World Cup, and also played for clubs in England, Italy and Germany, finishing his career last year at Everton in the Premier League.
“Homosexuality is not a serious issue in England, Germany or Italy, not in the dressing room in any case,” said Hitzlsperger, who made 52 appearances for Germany’s national team from 2004-11.
He said he resented the contradiction of football being a sport where “fighting, passion and the will to win are intrinsically linked,” compared to the stereotype that “gays are sissies.”
Arsenal and Germany forward, Lukas Podolski, welcomed Hitzlsperger’s announcement.
“Brave and right decision. Respect, Thomas Hitzlsperger. His outing is a important sign in our time,” Podolski wrote on his Twitter.
Germany national team manager, Oliver Bierhoff, said that during Hitzlsperger's time at the national team no one knew about the player's homosexuality: “He only informed us after he retired."
“His public outing deserves recognition and respect. I welcome this step and we (the DFB) will support him by all means, for him to continue his bold way.”
Hitzlsperger is the most high profile football player, active or retired, to come out as gay.
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