German Thomas Hitzlsperger joins the team of seven other men who have blazed the trail for homosexuality in soccer
German player Thomas Hitzlsperger has become the eighth male, before or after retirement, to reveal he is gay.
The only gay player to ever play in the Premier League, he said he wanted to come out to ‘further the debate about homosexuality in sports professionals’.
While the world of football may be notoriously homophobic, many do not want to be the ones to be brave and take a stand against bigotry.
But times are changing, and with Hitzlsperger the floodgates may open. In 2014, it may be the year we finally see many more athletes taking a stand.
After all, there is an estimated 500,000 competing footballers in the world.
Let’s look at the eight guys who have paved the way, starting with the newest addition:
‘It’s been a long and difficult process,’ the German player says. ‘Only in the last few years have I realised that I preferred living together with a man.’
These words have beamed across the globe. Perhaps the highest profile player to reveal his sexuality, Thomas Hitzlsperger has represented Germany as well as UK teams West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa.
He said: ‘Fighting spirit, passion and winning mentality are intrinsically linked, that doesn’t fit the cliché: “gays are soft”.’
But the player will not be representing LGBTI people on the pitch. He retired last September.
Or will Hitzlsperger pull a Robbie Rogers? In early 2013, the US soccer star said he was gay and retiring in the same news conference.
But staying on the bench did not last long as he was soon signed to LA Galaxy.
‘Life is so full of amazing things,’ he said. ‘I realized I could only truly enjoy my life once I was honest.
‘Honesty is a bitch but makes life so simple and clear. My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended.’
Life was not so sweet for David Testo. When the American soccer player came out in 2011, it killed his career.
Released from his contract Montreal Impact a month before he came out, he could not get any other offers.
‘When I did come out,’ Testo said. ‘I didn’t know if I was going to play more, but I knew I couldn’t keep playing the way that I was. I knew if I was going to continue it had to be out in the open and people had to know about it.’
Still young at 32, Testo was forced to retrain as a yoga instructor and begin his life anew.
For Swedish player Anton Hysén, he was known as a ‘global one-off’.
When he came out in early 2011, he shocked the world. But not only that, he continued to play.
The youngest son of a professional football family, his father is the legendary player and manager Glenn Hysén.
When he spoke to GSN, he said: ‘I had that thought about it for a second, but then again I was like, fuck it.
‘People are always going to say whatever they’re going to say, and people gets stuff said to them no matter who you are and what you do, so I was like, fuck it.’
Norwegian player Thomas Berling disappeared in 2000 for completely unknown reasons.
Afterwards, it surfaced that he had come out as homosexual and had quit football as a result of what he described as ‘widespread homophobia’.
Having played in the second highest Norwegian league, his story was frequently referenced as the reason why many soccer players could not come out.
Speaking 12 years after his revelation, he said: ‘I thought it would be ok to stand up in Norway, but it could ruin my ambitions abroad. I was wrong. But it’s okay, I’m not in the closet anymore.’
Belgium footballer Jonathan De Falco had a short-lived career in the game.
He played a few games in the lower leagues, but generally could not find much success on the field due to vision problems. Looking for an alternative income, he became a go-go dancer. Eventually, he went into gay porn.
His dual lives were outed in 2011, forcing him to never play football again. Saying that, he said coming out was a ‘huge relief’.
East German Marcus Urban was one of the brightest talents in the 80s and 90s, he was told by coaches he could easily win the World Cup.
But that was until a shock injury ruined his plans for stardom.
Forced to play in the lower leagues, he changed his priorities and decided to come out.
‘It was fantastic. All this pressure was suddenly relieved. And it was well received by my surrounds,’ he said.
‘From there on out I was much happier. This was my World Cup win.’
And to the final, and saddest story on the list. When English footballer Justin Fashanu was playing in the 80s and 90s, he was flying high.
He was the first black player to command a million pound transfer fee and was expected to join the England national team at one point.
In 1990, he came out to international outrage. For four years after his revelation, he suffered a tremendous backlash. He quit playing in 1994.
Four years after this, Fashanu was accused of sexual assault at a time when the age of consent for gay sex was 18.
Fearing he would not be treated to a fair trial, Fashanu decided to kill himself in May of that year. His suicide note said the sex was consensual.
In eight lives, from the bad to the good, it proves how the world of soccer is rapidly changing.
Will 2014 be the year that we score the goal of finally seeing an outpour of gay, proud soccer stars? Perhaps.
But what is for sure, with these eight men, history is ready to be made.