Former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger comes out as gay

Thomas Hitzlsperger has come out publicly shortly after retiring - Mike Hewitt

Hitzlsperger also played in Germany's Bundesliga and becomes one of the very few European soccer players to come out.

Former Premier League midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has come out publicly in an interview with Die Zeit, a German newspaper. Hitzlesperger played for his hometown Bayern Munich before graduating to the Premier League's Aston Villa and then Bundesliga's VfB Stuttgart. He played last season for Everton before retiring and is being called the most prominent soccer player to ever come out.

From Die Zeit:

He had always resented the contradictions that were set up in the football world in dealing with homosexuality. Professional sport is a hard, competitive sport where "struggle, passion and will to win are inextricably linked." This does not fit the stereotype that many people hold of gay men, namely that "gays are sissies."

Hitzlsperger says: "I've never been ashamed of it." Nevertheless, the language of his teammates was not always easy to bear.

He said he would sit and listen to anti-gay jokes, keeping quiet as long as the jokes were reasonably funny and the "chatter about homosexuals was not massively offensive."

One of the interesting pieces is Hitzlsperger's revelation that it's only been the last couple of years he has realized he's gay. Other elite athletes have said that their sexual orientation was buried within them for years because they were so focused on their sport that they didn't allow themselves to think about it. I certainly remember burying these feelings by filling my time in high school with every activity I could participate in.

It's certainly too bad that he didn't come out last year while he was still with Everton, but his coming out now is still another step. European soccer has long been the most homophobic corner of the Western sports world. It makes the NFL look like a local GLAAD chapter. Robbie Rogers talked about the difference in environment between British soccer, where he felt he needed to retire to come out, and American soccer, where he has been welcomed with open arms.

Anton Hysen remains the only active professional European soccer player who is openly gay.

You can follow Hitlsperger on Twitter.

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