This week’s influencer – Thomas Hitzlsperger
Up until this week, homosexuality in football has been a taboo subject. Sportsmen have avoided coming out as gay until they have retired or are out of the spotlight, such as Olympic diver Tom Daley and former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas.
This week, former Premiership footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger announced he is gay in an interview with German magazine Die Zeit, making him the first Premiership footballer to do so.
This caused a significantly positive reaction, suggesting that British fans are more supportive than might have been first perceived. It sparked a huge debate on homophobia in sport, questioning why it is still apparent today. In an industry where racism has been heavily cracked down on, why should homophobia be any different?
National journalists who wouldn’t normally write about football ran profiles on Hitzlsperger, looking back at his football career and high-profile members of the industry commented on his announcement, including QPR midfielder Joey Barton and ex-England captain Gary Lineker. Arsenal striker Lucas Podolski even noted him as “an important sign of our time.”
On social media, fans have declared their support for Hitzlsperger.
The extent of the debate has gone beyond homophobia around players and encouraged campaign group The Gay Football Supporters’ Network to voice similar issues amongst fans. It’s raised the profile of the network, shining a light on the work they do to break down the barriers to football fan coming out as gay.
So whilst Hitzlsperger’s announcement has influenced the media to cover homosexuality in football in more depth, it has, more importantly, set an example for current players and fans who may be considering coming out themselves. The positive reaction to his announcement represents an important development in the sport becoming more tolerant, marking a huge change in its history.
However, although the reaction to Hitzlsperger’s move was positive, the fact that it gained so much coverage reinforces that it’s such a rare announcement. Let’s hope there will be less of a reaction and even more acceptance for any similar announcements in the future, so that it becomes a non-story.