Former Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has told Sky that gay footballers would be crazy to come out during their careers.
In September 2012, a footballer in the Bundesliga had given an anonymous interview to Fluter in which he said he and several other players in Germany were gay but added: “I would not be safe anymore if my sexuality was made public.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by insisting players should not be afraid to come out and, last month, Thomas Hitzlsperger became the first German footballer to do so, but only after having retired in September.
Lehmann, who played alongside Hitzlsperger for Stuttgart and Germany, said that it would be inadvisable for an active player to follow suit.
“Anyone doing that would be nuts,” the former Arsenal keeper said during a talk show. “You can’t foresee what would happen. You can’t advise anyone to do so -- they would no longer have fun playing football.”
Asked how he would have found it had he known Hitzlsperger -- nicknamed “Der Hammer” -- was gay during their time as teammates, Lehmann said: “Strange, I think. You shower together every day, and there are times when it would be difficult.
“But Thomas Hitzlsperger is a player who never caused anyone to think that there is something -- firstly because he is very intelligent and, secondly, because of his style of play.”
Former England international Graeme Le Saux wrote in his autobiography that, despite being heterosexual, taunts from fans, opposition players and even his own teammates over his sexuality almost ruined his career. LA Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers, who came out in February 2013, told the BBC last year that, after his experience of playing for Leeds, he thinks it would be difficult for a gay player in the UK.
Lehmann feels that it is inevitable that a gay player would be victimised.
“I know for sure that there would have been a few players, be it opponents or others in the dressing room, who would have permanently made jokes,” Lehmann said. “It’s not like there are 25 intellectuals who discuss whether someone’s gay or not.
“Football is a man’s sport, and you don’t have to think a lot, and you also can’t control the fans in the stadiums. As a [gay player], should you have to put up with all that?”
The 44-year-old’s suggestion that players should keep their homosexuality a secret caused some controversy in Germany, with the Stuttgarter Nachrichten headlining its article: “Lehmann talks himself into trouble.” The German football monthly 11 Freunde described Lehmann’s statements as “non-reflective” of the public mood.
During the same Sky show, the president of the German Football Association (DFB), Wolfgang Niersbach, spoke of his hope for a potential co-operation with Hitzlsperger in the fight against homophobia in football.
“He has said that he will be at the Germany vs. Chile game in March,” Niersbach said. “We will talk to him and see if and how we can involve him in it.”