Former Premier League midfielder and Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed he’s gay in an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit.
Hitzlsperger, who spent most of his career at Aston Villa and Stuttgart, is the first former Premier League player and first German footballer to do so. He retired this past September after featuring for Everton in seven games last season.
Talking to Die Zeit, Hitzlsperger said he felt the timing of the announcement was right:
"I’m revealing my homosexuality because I want to promote the discussion of homosexuality among professional athletes.
I think it is a good moment for it. With the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, I think we need more critical voices against campaigns of regimes who don’t tolerate homosexuals.”
The 31-year-old’s reveal comes almost a year after American midfielder Robbie Rogers’ announcement before immediately retiring. (Rogers would later change his mind and join the LA Galaxy, becoming the first openly gay player on an American professional team). On record, he is the fourth professional footballer to “come out”
Brave and right decision. Respect, Thomas Hitzlsperger. His outing is a important sign in our time. pic.twitter.com/c69Oml2Ocp— Lukas-Podolski.com (@Podolski10)
"It has been a long and difficult process [of becoming aware of being gay]. Only in recent years has it dawned on me that I would prefer to live with another man," Hitzlsperger said, who broke off a relationship in 2007 with his longtime girlfriend, one month before their wedding.
Hitzlsperger says he never felt ashamed of who he was, and generally didn’t encounter difficulties in professional football. “Homosexuality is not a serious issue in England, Germany or Italy, not in the dressing room in any case.” Still, he resented the contradiction of football being a sport where “fighting, passion and the will to win are intrinsically linked,” while gays were stereotyped as “sissies.”
Hitzsperger is used to taking courageous leaps. After failing to advance out of Bayern Munich’s youth teams, he moved to England as an 18-year-old, finding a home at Aston Villa. He played four years at Villa Park, quickly becoming a fan favorite and earning the nickname “Der Hammer,” for his powerful left foot.
Upon returning to Germany, Hitzlsberger became a leader in five seasons at Stuttgart. He captained Die Schwaben to the Bundesliga title in 2007, scoring a breathtaking, left foot volley straight from a corner kick to seal the championship in the decisive game against Energie Cottbus:
That title was the highlight of his club career. He stayed with Stuttgart until 2010 before spells with Lazio, West Ham United, Wolfsburg and finally, Everton. Hitzlsperger also featured for Germany at the 2006 World Cup and 2008 European Championships.
Photo provided by Action Images.