Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Germany international, has revealed that he is gay, stating that “it is only in the last few years I have realised I would rather live with a man”. The midfielder, who played for Bayern Munich, Aston Villa, VFB Stuttgart and Lazio, is arguably the highest-profile player to make such an announcement. Many have drawn attention to the timing of his statement, noting that no male footballer – Hitzlsperger has just retired at 31 years of age – has come out while playing. The only man to have done so is Robbie Rogers, who left the game for a time and is now plying his trade in the Major Soccer League.
One of Hitzlsperger’s comments will resonate strongly with anyone who has walked the often hauntingly lonely path that is coming out. He referred to it as “a long and difficult process”; the knowledge that you are not like most others, the terror that your life may be incalculably harder than theirs, the fear of rejection by others which initially leads you to reject yourself. The internal voices of condemnation are frequently deafening and seemingly endless: he would have had to outlast them all, whilst building self-esteem that at times may have had all the fragility of a sandcastle.
It makes perfect sense that he would choose to say this now: many gay people choose a fresh environment in which to live as truly as they can to themselves, be that moving city, moving country, or, in Hitzlsperger’s case, leaving a profession. There is, of course, a further and obvious pragmatism to what he has done. “The sporting worst case is a possibility”, he told the German publication Die Zeit. “An openly gay footballer would have to be prepared for that. He should not let himself be guided by what other people think and say about him. On the other hand he could also become a great role model for gay sports stars”, he says. Of course, in taking such a step today, he has become a role model himself.
Hitzlsperger, judging from the largely positive reaction thus far, should be just fine. And, on a lighter note, there should be no shortage of takers for a recently-retired multimillionaire with a social conscience and an athlete’s physique. Indeed, if there is any immediate cause for profound sympathy, then it should probably go first to his competition in the gay dating market. Going up against those credentials, they’re going to need it.