To take the public debate a step further
January 12, 2014 6:52 AM   Subscribe

On Wednesday, after retiring in September, former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger announced he is gay in an interview with Die Zeit (excerpt, de) and a statement (PDF, en) on his website, followed by an interview with the Guardian. He discussed the decision and the aftermath of the announcement with Gary Lineker on Football Focus (1:00-4:15).

Following messages of support from all corners, some in the German media have questioned (de) what that means against a backdrop of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia, the future World Cup in Qatar and debate in Germany over how homosexuality should be discussed in schools. Meanwhile, Corny Littman, former president of FC St Pauli, argues (de) that the climate within clubs, rather than fear of the reaction of fans, as often mooted, deters players from coming out.
posted by hoyland (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's a shame he felt he had to wait for retirement.
posted by communicator at 6:57 AM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got the impression from an interview in German that he decided to wait not because coming out earlier would not have been feasible but because it would not have been the right choice personally. (Though you also get the impression the people he consulted were saying "It'll be a massive headache, don't do it.") It seems he was very close to doing it, to the point of giving Joachim Löw the heads up* and then changing his mind.

*Then again, I'm imposing my own feelings on that--I'd be stalling on coming out to the national team coach like crazy. Other people maybe not.
posted by hoyland at 7:12 AM on January 12, 2014

Someday, this won't be news. I can't wait.
posted by chavenet at 7:49 AM on January 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's a shame he felt he had to wait for retirement.

It's a shame that the default remains heterosexuality and all others are, by default, required/expected/whatever to declare otherwise. That's the shame of it. "Big deal" already.
posted by de at 7:52 AM on January 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Someday, this won't be news. I can't wait.
posted by chavenet at 7:49 AM on January 12

Seems to me in the next 5 years it will be a lot less of a big deal, especially in the professional sports world. Beyond being a "big deal", though, I imagine celebrities coming out will continue to be "news worthy" in whatever way things in People or In Touch are news worthy.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The message that I pick up when athletes continue to wait until retirement before coming out is that no, the professional sports world is NOT yet a safe place for LGBT athletes.
posted by blue t-shirt at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

This made my day when Hitzlsperger announced it. Everything about the public reaction has been very encouraging (though yes, I can't wait until sexual orientation isn't newsworthy). I don't really have anything to add to hoyland's fine post, except that Hitzlsperger was a hell of a player.
posted by Kattullus at 8:08 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm still looking forward to a player announcing this and then getting signed to another professional contract.
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 AM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

You may be aware that a US professional soccer player, Robbie Rogers, come out publicly back in February 2013, and retired immediately. He explains his decision here (previously). In May 2013 he became the first openly gay player to play in the MLS. Just before Christmas he told the Guardian about his 'insane year' and how nothing happened as he expected.
posted by biffa at 8:42 AM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's already becoming a "so what? Big deal" kind of news item. So I'm hopeful that within the next 5 years we'll see not just one, but several players being signed up to new contacts after coming out.
posted by arcticseal at 12:07 PM on January 12, 2014

You may be aware that a US professional soccer player, Robbie Rogers, come out publicly back in February 2013, and retired immediately. He explains his decision here (previously).

The count of out footballers is something like two coming out while active (Justin Fashanu and Anton Hysén), Rogers, David Testo (who was without a club when he came out and then retired without being signed), two after retirement (Hitzlsperger and Marcus Urban) and one posthumous outing (Heinz Bonn*). (Plus a number of women, at least in Germany, and I think there's a gay club that's made it into the very lower reaches of the German league system.) Hitzlsperger and Fashanu are by far the two most prominent players on that list. (I think Rogers inhabits a weird space because he's American and has spent most of his career in the MLS.)

I have the sense, though, that this might be the earth-shattering coming out, at least in Germany. The German media has this ongoing obsession with the lack of out gay footballers which has always focused partly on the impossibility of being out while playing at the highest levels. Ignoring the Corny Littman piece (which was a bit xenophobic, btw), Hitzlsperger seems to be challenging that assumption quite strongly in that he's not saying that coming out while active would have been impossible or career-ending, rather he's framing it as a choice he made. That ongoing media obsession, as problematic as it is**, means Germany really does have something of an ongoing discussion of homophobia in football.

*He was murdered by a male prostitute, which frankly might be all that is known about his sexuality.
**The German media definitely have names of gay players and, while it's pretty clear they're not going to out someone, sometimes it seems like they're hoping if they talk about the absence of out players enough, someone will give in and come out.

posted by hoyland at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I really liked the very quick twitter reaction from Lukas Podolski, but then again - if you're 28 and from Cologne, LGBT people are just part of everyday life.

The Denmark women's national handball team has had several openly homosexual players for the last 20 years, starting with Anja Andersen and the very successful team built around her in 1994. Handball is the second biggest spectator sport in Denmark, so that's kind of a bigger deal than it may sound :)
posted by brokkr at 12:39 PM on January 12, 2014

Like others, I look forward to the day that this is not news. Clearly not there yet, but steps like this are necessary. Good on 'im.
posted by trip and a half at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2014

For those who read German, it looks like the full interview has hit the Zeit website.
posted by hoyland at 5:07 AM on January 13, 2014

Meanwhile, in Austria.... lia
posted by Mezentian at 6:11 AM on January 13, 2014

I think the first English Premier League footballer to come out whilst still playing will be overwhelmed by support partly because there are a lot of people who would welcome the chance to proudly proclaim said support.

It's also encouraging that Tom Daley's coming out as bisexual barely made it through a few news cycles before being a non-event.
posted by fullerine at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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