The comments from Germany captain Phillipp Lahm purport homophobia
It is known as the game’s last taboo. That label does a disservice to the understated coverage granted to football’s many other problems, in financial corruption, depression and match fixing. But, in social terms at least, it is certainly true that soccer is still yet to get its head round homosexuality.
This week, Germany and FC Bayern captain Phillipp Lahm was once again quoted advising gay footballers not to declare themselves publicly, for fear of the repercussions they might suffer from the media and fans. Lahm, who made similar assertions in his controversial autobiography last year, argued that “the footballing community is not ready to accept homosexual players as a normality”.
His comments have overtly negated the appeals of DFB President Theo Zwanziger and team mate Mario Gómez -both of whom have urged gay players in Germany to come out – and attracted heavy criticism from the furthest reaches of the sporting world, with homosexual former NBA star John Amaechi accusing Lahm of underestimating his influence as national team captain.
One would think, following the furore that ensued after the publication of his book, that Lahm would be beyond such clumsy public declarations. While it would be incorrect to perceive the comments as homophobic – Zwanziger defended Lahm as “one of the most tolerant players” – the implications which they carry are frighteningly crass. In urging players to remain in the proverbial closet, the Bayern captain has succeeded neither in condemning football’s perpetual homophobia, nor suggesting any way in which it might be overcome. If his responsibilities do not include changing the attitudes of an entire footballing society, they certainly do not include purporting the atmosphere of fear and secrecy which currently surrounds homosexuality in football.
Many point to the tragedy of Justin Fashanu – the openly homosexual English forward who killed himself in 1998 – as a reason for gay players to stay silent. They miss the point. The heightened awareness and maturity towards depression since Robert Enke’s suicide shows what publicity can do to change fundamental perception. That gay players have continued to remain silent since Fashanu, and that attitudes have apparently remained the same, shows the utter futility of continued silence.
This is not to say that the game’s narrow mindedness is the fault of the gay players who keep their sexuality private. They are, as any other member of society, quite within their rights to do so, and should in no way be expected to act as ambassadors for open mindedness at the expense of their own safety. What Lahm’s comments imply though – albeit inadvertently – is that they have a responsibility to stay silent, and that if a publicly gay player were to suffer discrimination, it would be his own fault for not keeping schtum. How on earth the Germany captain thinks such an idea will do anything but appease inherent homophobia is incomprehensible
It is not as if sexuality is a topic altogether divorced from football. Hannover 96 manager Mirko Slomka was last week reported to have invited his players to answer a voluntary questionnaire on their sexual attitudes (prompting the gloriously indiscreet headline: “From 96 to 69”), and in a recent magazine interview, one team doctor at SC Freiburg recanted the amusing tale of a player calling him at 3am for advice on the administration of Viagra. In a purely heterosexual world, sex and football are irrevocably linked. Any other sexual choice, however, is apparently unthinkable for the footballing world.
Are we still so preposterously backward in the most global and diverse of all the world’s sports? If football’s universal appeal has the power to unify on a racial and social level, then why not in terms of sexuality? And, more to the point, why does Lahm believe that its inability to accept sexual freedom should be appeased? Racism was not made the inexcusable blight on footballing culture that it is rightly perceived to be today by discouraging black players from playing. Only through encouragement, publicity and education can narrow mindedness be expelled from the footballing world, and that is why Lahm’s assertions are so ridiculous. Some say that someone should offer him a quiet word, to stop him making these foolish comments for a third time. When it comes to homosexuality, though, quietness is the last thing we need.Tagged in: bayern munich, Bundesliga, Phillipp Lahm
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