Wednesday, 8 January 2014

After Thomas Hitzlsperger is it time to see openly gay players?

So I should have seen this coming, the first football player who has graced the Premier League comes out on one day when I am busy with work and then have bowls in the evening.

So I guess that everyone has said their piece about how great it is that Thomas Hitzlsperger has come out as gay.

It is indeed a momentous moment, but one part of me wonders if he hadn't suffered a career ending injury that forced him to retire from the game at the relatively young age of 31 if we have heard this news today, or if we might have had to wait another four years until he retires.

However, the fact that a former international with 52 caps for Germany and a player in one of the top leagues in Europe has come out so soon after retiring is a good sign. People cite the example of John Amaechi, but he took 4 years from his retirement from the NBA to come out. He was the start of major league stars to come out in the USA, but it took until last year for Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards to come out while still playing. It was the following that Robbie Rogers who had come out after quitting Leeds United signed for LA Galaxy.

Rogers said that a major part of the reason for him returning to professional football came when he addressed a group of 500 LGBT teenagers. He said:

"These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I'm 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?" 

So he stepped up to the plate, got back into the game to await the natural end of his playing days rather than one imposed by the sense that he felt in football he had to stay in the closet.

In 2010 Rudi Assauer, who was boss of Schalke in Germany, said about gay players:

"Perhaps they are OK in other sports but not in football.

"If a player came to me and said he was gay I would say to him: 'You have shown courage.'  But then I would tell him to find something else to do.

"That's because those who out themselves always end up busted by it, ridiculed by their fellow players and by people in the stands. We should spare them these witch-hunts."

Strangely although he had been part of the build up for that year's World Cup, indeed scoring the last of his six international goals in the qualifying game, but didn't make his second world cup at the age of 28 that summer. Bizzarely at that World Cup the captain Michael Ballack's agent Michael Becker said there were a "bunch of gays" in the squad, but the German press instead of pricking up their ears at the revelation seemed to take it placidly as if they either already knew the allegations or knew about some of the players.

Interesting to look back over recent comments and interviews given by Hitzlsperger about the issue of coming out in Football he has always been positive yet realistic about the effects this would have. Saying in 2012 that a pro might come out within a year. He was slightly longer than that and Rogers fitted right into that time scale. But he also said that in doing so it would depend on who and how they came out, but that it could lead to an end of a career. This is what Rogers initially did before that change of heart, but Hitzlsperger himself also waited until the end of his career.

Looking at the support from footballers, Federations, commentators, teams and fans it looks like the overwhelming  majority don't care one way or the other. Is it possible that other players seeing today's response might take the even bolder step of coming out while still playing?

In the mean time if I am supporting my team and some fans start the chant at a set play "Put your hand up if you're gay" I will continue to do what I have done in the past and put my hand up, and hope that maybe one of the players with their hand up also is answering the question rather than looking for the ball.

1 comment:

  1. Jason Collins has never actually played in the NBA since he came out.