Former Aston Villa and Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has said becoming Chief Executive of Stuttgart in February 2019, shows football has made "progress" on LGBT+ issues since he came out seven years ago.
Hitzlsperger publicly stated he was gay in January 2014, a number of months after retiring due to injury problems. He told BBC Sport: “The past seven years have been a fantastic journey.
"The fact I'm the CEO of one of the biggest clubs in Germany is a sign of the progress. It wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago - even five years ago.
"My life changed seven years ago when I went public, and has changed for the better."
This season, Stuttgart wore a rainbow-striped shirt, with Hitzlsperger stating symbols such as these do help with the discussion of LGBT+ issues but can only go so far. Speaking to Radio 5 live, Hitzlsperger said that marking LGBT+ History month is “very important” as it helps people understand how “people who are closeted feel.
“It helps them understand why people don't come out, what it takes for them and why they need support.”
He also expressed his understanding of why current professional players may still feel “anxiety” about coming out. He said: “Someone insulted me on social media recently using homophobic language, but it just doesn't touch me anymore. I'm confident enough that it doesn't even reach me.
"But for those people who are not publicly out, who have not told their friends and families, to them it's really hurtful, it pains them.
Although encouraged by his work with fan groups and the German Football Association in raising awareness of LGBT+ issues, Hitzlspger still feels there is a lot more to be done, with “courageous people” needed to confront homophobic language in the stands.
“In football stadiums there are a lot of people who disagree with discrimination, but then it takes someone to stand up to the person next to them and say: 'We don't accept this,'" said Hitzlsperger.
"I sense fans are more welcoming, but we can't eradicate homophobia and we need courageous people to stand up and tell these people.”
Hitzlspger added he has “no regrets” about not coming out during his playing career saying he: “took the time I needed and I was then prepared. You have to be stable to do it and that's why I have no regrets.
"The public statement wasn't a relief - the relief was the first time I told my brother, my best mate, my parents.
"I wasn't ready before. I didn't have the support network and I had too many people telling me don't do it. But when I retired, no-one could hold me back."