By Chris Mascaro
January 08, 2014

Thomas Hi(Jan Kruger/Getty Images) Thomas Hitzlsperger's revelation has garnered support in Germany and in the soccer world. (Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Thomas Hitzlsperger, who retired from professional soccer four months ago because of persistent injuries, told the German newspaper Die Zeit he is gay, becoming the first Premier League player to come out.

"I am expressing my sexuality because I want to promote the discussion of homosexuality among professional athletes," Hitzlsperger, who was engaged to a woman in 2007, told Die Zeit. "Only in the last few years did it dawn on me that I would rather live with a man."

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The 31-year-old played for Aston Villa, West Ham and most recently Everton in the Premier League, and also made stops in the Bundesliga (for VfB Stuttgart) and Serie A (Lazio). He also made 52 appearances for the German national team from 2004-11 and was on the country's 2006 World Cup team.

"Homosexuality is not a serious issue in England, Germany or Italy, not in the dressing room in any case," Hitzlsperger said, adding that he thought the time was right to come out because the subject was "simply ignored."

Hitzlsperger's announcement has garnered support from fellow players, former German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who is openly gay, and a spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, who said, "We live in a country where nobody should be afraid of acknowledging their sexuality for fear of intolerance."

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