German Soccer Star Thomas Hitzlsperger Reveals He’s Gay

The former Aston Villa midfielder came out to a German newspaper

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FormerĀ Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed he is gay, becoming one of the most prominent professional soccer players to do so.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit published on Wednesday, Hitzlsperger said, “I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.” The German athlete added that he only realized he would “prefer to live together with another man” in recent years, but noted, “I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am.”

Hitzlsperger played for West Ham, Everton and Germany, but retired from soccer in September, at the age of 31. In the Die Zeit interview he said that it was now “a good time” to come out, while also describing the implicit pressure to stay closeted around his former soccer teammates. “Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking – you’ve just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn’t get too insulting,” he said.

Sam Dick, the campaign director for Stonewall, a LGBT campaign and lobby group, told the BBC that Hitzlsperger’s announcement was a great move for the sport community. “Every sports star who is willing to speak out makes it just that little bit easier for gay players and fans,” he said. “We hope, a new generation of footballers will feel confident enough to be themselves.”