With plenty of international caps to his name and a handful of goals, Mats Hummels is well-known for his ability to articulate clearly on a wide range of issues in football. When asked about homosexuality in the professional game in Germany, the skilled defender offered a nuanced response which cannot have been lost on any of his colleagues who happen to be gay. He was reported to have said that it will take a really big player to come out to shift perceptions in the sport. Hummels noted that football is one of the few areas of culture in society where there is – apparently, at least – no male homosexuality. He pointed out that though a player might come out as gay after the end of his career, this does not mean that homosexuality starts only once football has ended. The married father joked that a man doesn’t become gay only when he has stopped showering with other men for 20 years.
Nevertheless, football retains its macho image, one which continues to be the focus of much sports betting and many international lifestyle brands. If it doesn’t lose its conservative image in respect of sexual orientation, then will it continue to attract the big brand sponsors and sports gamblers of the next generation? It is an interesting point that the authorities in the game have yet to fully address. Despite Hummels’ common sense assertion that gay professional football players must be plying their trade in the game right now, so far no one has come out openly. Or have they? Read on to discover more about the individuals who have played professional football over the years who have either come out or been outed by others. Some of the stories are truly remarkable.
1. Thomas Hitzlsperger
In 2014, the German midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay at the end of his playing career. Hitzlsperger, who has been capped many times for his country, had played much of his club football in England, notably for Aston Villa and West Ham. Making his announcement in the German press, the retiring footballer said that he had chosen to do so to try and make a statement about the game. “I’m coming out… because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople on,” he said. The German went on to add that there must be other gay men in the game who, like him, felt that it was a taboo subject to talk about their sexual orientation openly in a team situation.
2. Justin Fashanu
Born in 1961, Justin Fashanu took the brave decision to inform his first clubs that he was gay. The player, who gained several under-21 caps for England, chose to come out publicly in 1990 following an interview in the press. Fashanu revealed his encounters with celebrities, MPs and, perhaps most tellingly of all, with other football players. In 1998, Fashanu was charged with a sexual assault in Maryland, USA. He fled back to the UK but later took his own life leaving a note which denied the charge against him.
3. Anton Hysén
The son of the famous Swedish international footballer, Glenn Hysén, Anton is a defender who earns a living as a professional in the Swedish second division. Born in 1990, Hysén is widely regarded to be one of the few openly European gay footballers who has come out during his career since Fashanu. Having previously worked in the construction industry, the footballer has gained a certain amount of fame simply for being a gay soccer player. He has won a reality TV dancing show in his home country, the first gay man to do so. Hysén appears to be breaking down cultural barriers with every step he takes.
4. Robbie Rogers
Another player who took the step to come out as gay during his career was Robbie Rogers. As a young man, Rogers had a distinguished playing career, representing the USA at under-20 and under-23 level. His senior career began at Orange County Blue Star and progressed at Columbus Crew. In 2012, he moved to the UK to begin a career with Leeds United, later playing for Stevenage Town on loan. In February 2013, the winger came out before signing a new contract with LA Galaxy, making him one of the few openly gay professional athletes of any kind in North America. Rogers played for the United States national team 18 times before retiring from the professional game in 2017.
5. Olivier Rouyer
Born in 1955 in Nancy, France, Olivier Rouyer came from a different generation of footballers from the others you have read about thus far on this list. The winger made 210 appearances for his local side, Nancy, from 1973 to 1981, scoring on 73 occasions. His goal-scoring prowess and his speed meant that he was selected for the French national team during this time. Rouyer would represent his country 17 times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, scoring twice. After spells at Strasbourg, Lyon and Neudorf, Rouyer hung up his boots. Only after he had returned to Nancy to manage his former club in the early 1990s did Rouyer come out as gay.
6. David Testo
Originally from North Carolina, David Testo came out in 2011 during a radio interview broadcast in Canada. Having played professional football in the United States since 2003, the midfielder said that all of his clubs and teammates had been told about his sexuality although up to that point he had decided not to come out. Testo is widely regarded as the first American professional soccer player to come out as gay. He is now on the board of You Can Play, an organisation dedicated to the fight against homophobia in sport.
7. Collin Martin
Another American, Collin Martin is a midfielder who has played professionally for DC United, Richmond Kickers and Minnesota United. In June of 2018, Martin took the step to publicly out himself as gay. At the time, he was the only American soccer player who was currently playing and openly gay. Although Martin has never won a full international cap he has represented his country at under-20 level five times. Martin chose to make an announcement about his sexuality on social media, another first. He pictured himself draped in a rainbow flag to coincide with a gay pride event in Dallas. The player went on to add that he had received only, “kindness and acceptance” from those around him in Major League Soccer.