The Thomas Hitzlperger story is also a victory for the tabloids

Perhaps the biggest hero in this tale is the editor of The Sun

Share
Related Topics

I think we can all probably agree that Thomas Hitzlsperger did a good thing in saying he was  homosexual. It is something of a shame that the former Premier League footballer waited until he retired to go public with his sexuality, but in the area of sexual politics, we know that progress comes in small steps.

It is rather jarring to be reminded that we still live in a world where someone's private sexual proclivity is something we need to know about, but Hitzlsperger's act in becoming the first player in the Premier League era - and the first German professional player ever - to come out as gay is a significant one.

Of course, it would have had so much more impact had he made his declaration while still active in the colours of Aston Villa, but in helping to dismantle a taboo which is both shaming and irrational, it is entirely proper that Hitzlsperger should get backing from those within the game and beyond, from respected figures and eminent commentators. And Joey Barton.

In his interview, Hitzlsperger emerges as an even rarer specimen among professional footballers: he's thoughtful, clearly deeply intelligent, well-spoken and measured. He makes the point that, in Germany, the media is much more focused on outing players than in Britain, and indeed some of the German game's biggest figures have had to answer highly inappropriate questions - based on little more than innuendo - about their sexuality. In this febrile, intrusive atmosphere, it is hardly surprising that active players don't come out.

Thomas Hitzlsperger during his time at West Ham Thomas Hitzlsperger during his time at West Ham

Professionals in Britain have less of an excuse, because the overwhelming evidence is that we simply don't care very much these days. Football is, unsurprisingly, a macho environment in which masculine qualities are prized - Hitzlsperger himself was known as “The Hammer” for his powerful left foot - but it is clear from the reaction today that, were the dressing rooms of Britain truly to reflect the make-up of a society in which six per cent of the population is gay, no one within the game would have too much of a problem with it.

I know this flies in the face of what Hitzlsperger told the “Today” programme, that he felt it would have been impossible for him to come out while still a professional player, but the world is very often a surprisingly tolerant place when put to the test. The sad fact is that, despite Hitzlspeger's announcement, we're not any nearer discovering whether that's true or not.

But the biggest challenge in terms of changing perceptions may be what used to called the terraces, which are still, as anyone who goes regularly to football matches will know, a repository of racism, sexism and homophobia. And, in this respect, perhaps the biggest hero in this story is the editor of The Sun. Britain's most popular tabloid gave Hitzlsperger unequivocal validation on its front page, calling him ”brave“ and a ”winner“. It was a remarkable, cheering, piece of journalism, and was a clear indication that, for all strata of society, things are changing.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss