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Last February, American player Robbie Rogers declared he was gay before announcing his retirement. He returned to action with the Los Angeles Galaxy after an overwhelmingly positive reaction to his declaration.
Former English player Justin Fashanu, who played for Norwich and Nottingham Forest, was the first soccer player to say openly that he was gay in 1990. He committed suicide eight years later at age 37.
Swedish defender Anton Hysen came out in 2011.
Athletes from other sports have also spoken about their sexuality. Last month, British Olympic diver Tom Daley said he was in a relationship with a man. Other high-profile gay athletes include former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas, English cricketer Steven Davies and former NBA players Jason Collins and John Amaechi.
On Twitter, German forward Lukas Podolski welcomed his former international teammate’s announcement, calling it "brave and right" and "an important sign in our time."
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert praised Hitzlsperger’s announcement on behalf of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"We judge footballers by whether they conduct themselves well and with dignity on and off the pitch, and I believe both are true for Mr. Hitzlsperger," Seibert said.
German soccer federation president Wolfgang Niersbach said Hitzlsperger "was always an example for whom I had the highest respect, and this respect is even greater now."
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said players were unaware of Hitzlsperger’s sexuality until after his retirement, when the player informed both him and Germany coach Joachim Loew.
Said Bierhoff: "We’ll give him every support so he can continue on his courageous path."
Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.
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