"If I were gay, I’d say it now"
Thomas Hitzlsperger has opened the door for many gay footballers says his friend Arne Friedrich. However, the change of a homophobic climate needs time.
by Steffen Dobbert
ZEIT ONLINE : Mr. Friedrich …
Arne Friedrich: … Do not even ask. Of course this everything-but-football-column interview can only be about Thomas Hitzlsperger.
ZEIT ONLINE : Please do not stop .
Friedrich: In the football business you have very many acquaintances , but few friends. I count Thomas as my friend. I last spoke to him about two days ago, nothing special. He only told me about his sexuality a few weeks ago. I did not know that he would do this interview now to address the public. Since Wednesday, I ‘ve gotten an enormous number of media inquiries myself, and as many Twitter reactions as never before. The need to talk about Thomas seems to be very big. It caused quite an uproar.
ZEIT ONLINE : Is the attention justified?
Friedrich: For me: absolutely not! I hope that Thomas with his openness contributes to the fact that the sexuality, whether hetero - or homosexualilty, of a man in the football business is quite normal and not worth mentioning. It’s simply bad that such a topic was - or is - a taboo in football.
ZEIT ONLINE : When will the taboo be broken ?
Friedrich: No one can predict the exact moment. Thomas has now made a very good, important and courageous decision. I support him completely , and I have already told him that. Especially as professional footballer , when you are already under great pressure to perform well, that can be quite difficult . Thomas has made the right step , and the timing, so close to Sochi, is good too. He has opened a door for many others. Even active footballers could now easily speak openly about their sexuality after the many positive reactions.
ZEIT ONLINE : You’ve played in the United States before your career ended. Is the debate there different from here?
Friedrich: Definitely. When I played in Chicago, the active MLS player Robbie Rogers talked about his homosexuality . He has received nothing but positive feedback. It was considered normal in the entire league that a player outs himself.
ZEIT ONLINE : Thomas Hitzlsperger also criticized jokes and insults that are made in groups of footballers in the interview. You played with him in the national team. Do you remember those moments?
Friedrich: As Thomas said , footballers sometimes speak of a ” gay pass ” without meaning it to be offensive. Some swearwords have established themselves , unfortunately. But I think Thomas knew how to handle that. But in the clubs in which I played , homosexuality has never been discussed , neither positive nor negative. So I actually do not know any gay former teammates. I only learned about Thomas about six or seven weeks ago, when he confided in me. Within the team and the dressing room you do not talk about such things. On the other hand it is often talked about Women - because everyone just assumes that everyone is heterosexual.
ZEIT ONLINE : If a player wants to talk about his sexuality with the coach – are there obstacles at first?
Friedrich: I assume that every coach in the Bundesliga or national team would understand that and would protect the playe if necessary. I would assess any of my coaches from Joachim Löw to Felix Magath to act that way. I hope I’m not mistaken. Sexuality has nothing to do with football.
ZEIT ONLINE : Could it be that we are hearing a lot of encouraging words from officials and coaches, but that reality in the daily life in the football pub or in the stadium stands is an entirely different world?
Friedrich : Of course there are still some idiots who talk shit. Homophobia still dominates in some areas of society. The change of a collective climate needs time. Now, when important officials talk on TV , the conditions at the county-League places or in the stands will not change immediately. With the help of Thomas the subject now experiences an impulse , and perhaps thereby finally something changes.
ZEIT ONLINE : Will gay professional footballers no longer have to have alibi girlfriends soon?
Friedrich : Is that so? If so, this will probably only change when an active player is out and that is no longer considered sensational, but normal. This time will come.
ZEIT ONLINE : How important in this development is the media and their approach to the issue?
Friedrich : I can understand that the media reports so intense now. It’s their mission to spread news that interest many people. However, it is also always grist to the mill of those who really want to speculate whether one is heterosexual or homosexual. This is also in the case about me for years now. That my girlfriend and I were confronted about that again and again was annoying sometimes. But each soccer player is also a private person. I am heterosexual. But if I were gay, now would be a good time to say it out in public.