Should – in an ideal world – the footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger telling us that he falls in love with men rather than women be news?
No, and when we live in a world where millions don’t think being gay is wrong, where the word “gay” isn’t an insult, and where gay people are no longer spat at, beaten up or even killed, it won’t be. Until then, any blow to the rapidly diminishing, but still all-too-power powerful edifice of homophobia needs to be applauded.
Football remains one of the great fortresses of homophobia. Hitzlsperger is the first former Premier League footballer to come out and no currently playing British footballer has made such a move.
This is surely because of the inextricable link between homophobia and sexism. Homophobic abuse is largely dealt out to straight men who do not conform to the stereotype of manliness: they’re not sporty enough, they don’t leer at women enough, they’re not aggressive enough, they’re too studious, and so on. It’s a way of regulating what it is to be a man. Football was traditionally wrapped up with an old unreconstructed view of masculinity, so no wonder homophobia is endemic.
But as men have changed, and different sorts of masculinity become acceptable, football is changing too. Hitzlsperger has made a brave and commendable move. He will undoubtedly be followed by other courageous footballers in time, too.