German soccer star Thomas Hitzlsperger announced on Wednesday January 8 that he is gay, making him the first Premier League European soccer player to come out.
The former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton midfielder, announced the news to German newspaper Die Zeit.
In the interview, the 31-year-old claimed, “I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am,” adding that his decision to come out was because he wishes “to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”
Hitzlsperger also admitted that he had struggled in the past with some of the jokes or comments made on the topic of homosexuality. “Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking,” he explained, “you’ve just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn’t get too insulting.”
He then added, “in England, Germany or Italy, homosexuality is not taken seriously as an issue, at least not in the dressing room.”
Since coming out publicly, Hitzlsperger has received overwhelming support from other soccer players as well as the UK’s deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who tweeted: “Huge respect to @ThomasHitzl for his courage today. His bravery will help break down barriers in sport for the next generation.”
Hitzlsperger retired from soccer after an injury in September 2013.
Other soccer/football stars to come out in the last few years include Swedish footballer Anton Hysen and American pro soccer player Robbie Rogers, currently playing for LA Galaxy, who came out in February 2013.
The first soccer player to come out was Justin Fashanu in 1990 in Britain, who went on to take his own life eight years later at age 37.