Hitzlsperger’s Decision Must Be Heeded
Thomas Hitzlsperger announced on Wednesday that he was homosexual, sending shockwaves around the footballing world. The Munich born player, who retired only four months ago due to injury at the age of 31, becomes the highest-profile footballer to announce their homosexuality. Sports Editor Jonathan Harding discusses why the statement is so important.
Thomas Hitzlsperger has been waiting a long time to tell us this. Stopped from doing so as a player because he was advised of the backlash he would receive, the former Premier League, Bundesliga winner and Germany international decided now was the time. Support from the likes of Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski, former Foreign-minister Guido Westerwelle and British Prime Minister David Cameron demonstrate that the acceptance of homosexuality is much more common. What needs to follow is the same acceptance inside a sporting context.
For all of the justified support of Hitzlsperger’s coming out, it says a lot about the handling of the subject that the midfielder waited until the end of his playing career before revealing his sexuality. The door we all hope it opens is one that creates an atmosphere in which sportsmen and women feel comfortable enough to reveal information about themselves, without having to worry about negative media portrayal. “Why does it matter?” and “Sad to see that this is even news” are regular comments circulating after this press release, and although they are well meaning, they miss the point. The circulation and promotion of positive publicity is a necessity for equality. This is news because the comfort and acceptance that Hitzlsperger sought didn’t really exist. Part of creating such acceptance is publicising the idea so as to improve understanding and support. Until we reach a point where a leading Premier League player goes out for dinner with their boyfriend and the news story is about their style or choice of meal and not that they’re two men in a relationship together, there will still be a shock response to homosexual revelations in sport.
Hitzlsperger is not the first athlete to come out. John Amaechi and Gareth Thomas are two high-profile sportsmen in basketball and rugby respectively who were also brave, something that aided Hitzlsperger when he made his decision. The key is not letting this momentum of acceptance or understanding slip. It will take more than just a handful of players but each one counts. It began (again) with Robbie Rodgers. On Wednesday, it was Thomas Hitzlsperger. Whoever it is next week, month or year, they must be supported. And soon, we all hope it won’t be news because it truly won’t matter. Because it will have been accepted.