Bundesliga stars offer support to gay footballers

Does Bayern deserve a pass after their draw vs. Bielefeld? (1:02)

Kasey Keller credits Bielefeld for upping their game against a Bayern side fresh off a Club World Cup triumph. (1:02)

More than 800 players, both male and female, across Germany have offered their support to any gay footballer addressing their sexual orientation.

The footballers said they would offer support to anyone struggling with their decision to come out in public and, if need be, defend them "in the face of hostility. Because you are doing the right thing and we are on your side."

- Stream new episodes of ESPN FC Monday-Friday on ESPN+
- Stream Bundesliga all season long on ESPN+
- Take our quiz: Which Bundesliga club should you support?

"It's now 2021 -- and still there is not a single openly gay football professional in the men's game in Germany," the appeal, published by German football magazine 11 Freunde, said.

"Nobody should be cajoled into coming out. It's a free and individual choice. But it's our aim that everybody who decides to take this step can be certain of our full support."

The appeal was signed by United States international Bobby Wood, the entire squads of Bundesliga clubs Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Schalke, Werder Bremen and Freiburg, Union Berlin star Max Kruse and Germany internationals Jonas Hector and Niklas Stark, and Germany women's internationals Alexandra Popp and Almuth Schult.

"There were clubs like Union Berlin who were really supportive of this. And there were others where teams had to position themselves at first," Philipp Koster, 11 Freunde editor-in-chief, told ESPN. "Some clubs said they would not be part of it and they stated their reasons."

Philipp Bommer of Hertha Junxx, the first gay fan club in Bundesliga, formed in 2001, told ESPN that the appeal was "incredibly important for players and an important signal for both fans and society."

Meanwhile, former Germany captain Philipp Lahm has said that he would not advise gay footballers to address their sexual orientation.

"People with an inhumane attitude will also be under the tens of thousands of people coming together in a football stadium. From the anonymity of the crowd they would insult and defame players with another sexual orientation," he wrote in Bild. "Would a player be able to cope with it, and if so, for how long?"

But Koster told ESPN that Lahm might be unaware of recent developments inside the fan scenes where several leading ultra groups have worked actively against racism and xenophobia, and that discriminating chants, common until the late 1990s, have become a rarity.

Bommer added: "Symbolism is important, but it's even more important that those players protect their teammates and opponents should there be a coming out and when there are hostilities in or outside the stadium."