The Mirror ran a live blog of reaction yesterday following Thomas Hitzlsperger’s announcement. That alone should be enough to indicate why the former German international waited until after his retirement to come out.
Hitzlsperger said he was advised against coming out while he was still playing, during his season with Wolfsburg in 2011-12. It would have been an enormous weight on his shoulders, even if his playing career was winding down. The manner in which the media and football community can handle this matter, as evidenced yesterday, discourages those wishing to speak out about their personal lifestyle.
It is a shame, of course, but it’s wholly understandable. Is the football world ready for active players to publically announce their sexual orientation? It says more about football as a collective than it does of them, but promisingly Hitzlsperger isn’t the first athlete to come out in recent months.
The comments of PSG defender Alex seemed to set up a barricade for those looking to come out. “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Yves,” was generally dismissed by Hitzlsperger, with the German stating he feels sorry for the defender, who’s inability to look past religion prevents him from looking at the wider situation.
But while Hitzlsperger has received plenty of support from those inside and away from the game, had he been an active player, his career could have been altered by his public coming out. Would clubs be so willing to offer him a contract? What about countries such as Russia, which more than likely would have closed its doors to him, regardless of footballing ability?
Hitzsperger’s interview was another positive step. As the highest-profile footballer to come out, it will encourage others to do the same. Even those who are intolerant of homosexuality, such as Alex, are in the minority.
It may have been too soon for the German to come out if he was an active player, such would be the furore – the aim is to take this matter to a place where it becomes a non-story. But those who are thinking to do so will be comforted by the fact that they are not alone, nor will they lack utmost support from fans, the media and the majority of their contemporaries.