Bundesliga leads again on social issues

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Philipp Lahm
GettyImagesPhilipp Lahm addressed the issue of gay footballers in his book

Matchday Three of the Bundesliga begins on Friday night in the Fuggerstaedter as VfL Wolfsburg visits FC Augsburg. But, instead of seeing the customary VW and AL-KO sponsor's logos on the front of the kits, you will instead see the slogan "Geh deinen Weg". "Go your own way".

All 18 members of the Bundesliga will sport kits - and even the balls on the pitch - that include the slogan that is meant to embrace integration in Germany. The initiative is supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told a Berlin press conference: "When it comes to integration, I can scarcely think of a stronger partner than football."

Present at the same press conference, Uli Hoeness said: "Sport, and particularly football, can be the motor for integration. Heritage, religion and the colour of someone's skin should never be an issue."

Notice how nothing was said about sexual orientation? And with the publication of an article by Adrian Bechthold in Fluter, where he interviews an anonymous gay Bundesliga player, the question begged to be answered.

"Sooner or later some players are bound to out themselves," Hoeness said, "I cannot imagine that a gay player would have any problems with our fans. FC Bayern is ready. Society as a whole is further along on this issue than the media suggests."

Well, yes and no. From an Auslaender's (not pejorative here, considering I'm talking about myself) viewpoint. While Uli says the right things, Neo-Nazi banners still fly in some German stadiums. Racist remarks are still levelled at non-Germans. Even the anonymous player understands the stadium atmosphere saying: "I once heard that the cerebellum rules in heated moods, and tolerance is not built there. But I have to accept this because the stadium and the fans are the essential engine that drives me every day as well." To make an indirect analogy: Look at the crap that was levelled by Bayern supporters at Manuel Neuer just for switching clubs. Imagine if he switched teams?

Bayern players who have spoken on this issue have come out on different sides. Captain Philipp Lahm, who has had to fight homosexuality rumours for, well... ever, stated in his book that, "I would not advise any gay professional footballer to come out... I would fear that he could end up like Justin Fashanu who, after he outed himself, was driven into such a corner that he ended up committing suicide." Adding, of course, that he would have no problems with a gay teammate.

Meanwhile, Mario Gomez (who has fought rumours of his own) took an opposite tack, in 2010, in Bunte, saying gay footballers should come out: "They would then play as though they'd been unshackled. Being gay hasn't been a taboo topic for a while. We have a gay Vice Chancellor, the Berlin mayor is gay. So football professionals should also acknowledge their preference."

Easier said than done, mein Freund . In 2009, former DFB president Theo Zwanziger said: "The first in professional football who outs himself as a homosexual will not have an easy path." But, added that they would support the player with all the resources available to the Bundesliga.

Current DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach said that his organization would be delighted to support any openly homosexual player. But, as Lahm succinctly said in a Playboy interview: "The player who would out himself now has to do his job in front of tens of thousands of spectators. Guido Westerwelle (the openly-gay former Vice Chancellor of Germany) doesn't play football in front of 60,000 fans every weekend."

While the "Geh deinen Weg" initiative was originally intended to include people of different races, religions and heritages into Germany's fold, the timing of the anonymous footballer's interview could not have been more perfect. The initiative must include, as well, sexual preference if Germany strives to be truly tolerant. Perhaps, "GAY deinen Weg" is apt?

Note: The article with the gay footballer (in German) can be found here: http://www.fluter.de/de/114/thema/10768/

You should follow Susie on Twitter @fussballsusie.

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