The recent story of Malky Mackay and the infamous text messages, has reignited the way the game views matters of racism, homophobia and misogyny. It reminded me of a short article I wrote at the turn of the year about the former Premier League player and German international midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger who had ‘come out’ as being gay. I wanted to re-post this article not because it tells of any amazing insight into the Mackay issue, but perhaps illustrates just how little attitudes within the game have changed.
Former Aston Villa midfielder, Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed that he is gay. Speaking to German newspaper ‘Die Zelt’ the 32 year old, who retired from the game due to injuries in September said that he thought it was ‘a good time’ to make the announcement. The German becomes the latest player on the very shortest of lists to ‘come out.’
It’s unclear as to why he decided that now was the appropriate time, but being employed in an industry where both misogynist and homophobic attitudes stubbornly predominate, his retirement would surely have been a factor. It’s an entirely understandable view. Hitzlsperger said “I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am,” but went on to describe that the subject still remains a taboo in dressing rooms and how it was not easy to live with many of the comments that were passed around. “Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking,” he said. “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.” Regardless of his sentiment, it cannot have been a comfortable experience.
He went on to say that “I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.” It’s a very noble sentiment, and Hitzlesperger should be applauded for the sentiment. One is left to wonder however how much the declaration really advances discussion about homosexuality, regarding sports people or anyone else for that matter.
Statistically, it is surely inevitable that given 92 first class clubs, each with squads of 25 or so players, there are surely many more professional footballers who are homosexual. The taboo however will never be broken until a sufficient number of high profile players, at the peak of their careers force the football world to accept that footballers are merely people with the same characteristics as everyone else. Scratch away the surface, and the macho image projected by the game is revealed as actually being one of fear and that, as with most fears, is born of ignorance.
Thomas Hitzltsperger should be applauded for making a stand, but one can only hope that his stance helps to persuade others to do the same. Clearly, it is a very personal matter, and privacy is of course an issue, but breaking the barrier will require some weight and the more people encouraged to stand up by Hitzlsperger’s comments the better. Eliminating the stain of this prejudice from the game is a fight that needs all the help it can get.