January 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Retired German soccer player Thomas Hitzlsperger comes out

Thomas Kitzlsperger, soccer, sports, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Kitzlsperger (Photo by Egghead06; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Recently retired soccer player Thomas Hitzlsperger has become the first German footballer to come out as gay.

“I am expressing my homosexuality because I want to promote the discussion of homosexuality among professional athletes,” he told the German newspaper Die Zeit that published excerpts of the interview on its website on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported the 31-year-old midfielder played 52 games for Germany between 2004-2011 that included an appearance in the 2006 World Cup. Hitzlsperger also played for the English Premier League teams West Ham and Everton, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga and the Italian soccer team Lazio.

Injuries forced the midfielder to retire last September.

“Homosexuality is not an issue in England, Germany or Italy, at least in the locker room,” Hitzlsperger told Die Zeit.

Hitzlsperger said he takes issue with stereotypes associated with gays.

The retired midfielder told Die Zeit while he has never been “ashamed” of who he is, he has struggled to cope with some of his teammates’ homophobic remarks.

“Think about it: There are 20 young men sitting around a table and drinking,” Hitzlsperger told Die Zeit. “You let the majority of it go, as long as the jokes are reasonably funny and the garbage about homosexuals is not massively offensive.”

Several of Hitzlsperger’s former teammates applauded him for coming out.

“Brave and right decision,” tweeted German forward Lukas Podolski. “His outing is an important sign in our time.”

Former England captain Gary Lineker on Twitter congratulated Hitzlsperger for “bravely being the first player to have played in the [English Premier League] to ‘come out.’” Former NBA center John Amaechi also applauded the retired German midfielder.

“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,” wrote Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, an LGBT sports website, after Die Zeit published excerpts of its interview with Hitzlsperger. “European soccer has long been the most homophobic corner of the Western sports world. It makes the NFL look like a local GLAAD chapter.”

Hitzlsperger came out nearly a year after Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy publicly declared his homosexuality.

Swedish footballer Anton Hysen came out as gay in 2011.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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