Thomas Hitzlsperger is a former professional football player who played in England for the Premier league from 2001-2013. The German midfielder however took headlines just a few months after retiring when he sat down in an interview with Die Zeit and publicly announced that he is gay. This made Hitzlsperger along with Robbie Rogers, the most high-profile players in soccer to come out of the closet.

However, retiring and then coming out hasn’t been the end of Thomas Hitzlsperger’s career in soccer. Having just been appointed as the Academy Director of VfB Stuttgart and has been serving on the board of the Bundesliga club for over a year. In addition, he also serves as the Diversity Ambassador for the German Football Association (DFB).

In a recent interview with ARD Radio Recherche Sport Hitzlsperger says that he is encouraged by the progress football is making toward inclusion of gay athletes within the sport. While there has been much coverage of homophobia within fans of the sport, some of which has led to creation of many LGBT oriented football fan clubs. Hitzlsperger doesn’t believe that is a factor to blame for why gay and bisexual male players aren’t coming out.

“Football fans are much more enlightened and open-minded now. There will always be insults in everyday life, but players who contemplate coming out don’t have so much to worry about from fans. The fear is all in the mind.”

However, Hitzlsperger believes that the reason is rooted within the culture of the sport itself. Having come out after his own retirement, it is still a touchy and risky subject that creates a lot of hesitancy for gay and bi male football players to express themselves openly.

“The problem is that people have counsellors and consultants around them who advise against it [coming out] – and I’ve had the experience too,” he explains. “Most of them thought it would not work out. You have to listen to your own voice.”

Despite such little visibility and representation within the sport, Hitzlsperger is optimistic that things are changing within the culture. With the coming out of Collin Martin in the summer of 2018, the release of the Swiss produced film “Mario” about two gay football players, and Ryan Atkin serving as the Premier League’s first openly gay referee. He believes they will help to open the door for players to feel more confident about living as an openly gay, professional footballer.

By Dirk Smith