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Thoughts about Ronald Reng’s Enke biography, part 2

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Continuing my thoughts about Robert Enke… The words of Theo Zwanziger at Enke’s funeral are still ringing in my ears: why on earth did Zwanziger bring up the issue of homosexual footballers at Enke’s memorial service?

Germany was grieving the death of Robert Enke. A man who wasn’t known for creating a lot of noise around him, like

Theo Zwanziger is popular in the gay community because of his commitment for gay rights.

Jens Lehmann or Oliver Kahn. A keeper’s keeper, as Robert Reng points out. Probably on his way to the World Cup in South Africa, he had committed suicide. DFB-president Theo Zwanziger had the hard task of trying to find the right words at Robert Enke’s memorial service in the AWD-arena. Zwanziger pointed out that German football had to do some soul searching, and had to ask itself some tough questions. Zwanziger thought that it was appropriate to bring up the issue of homosexuality in professional football.

The culture in and around the stadiums
The DFB-president had in recent years been a great ally of gay fan clubs, and according to gay football fans, and has been miles ahead and more tolerant then his predecessors. That still begs the question if it was right to bring up this issue at the memorial service in the AWD-arena? Mario Gomez had a couple of weeks earlier said in an interview that gay footballers had to come out of the closet, in order to feel better about themselves. On the anniversary of Robert Enke’s death Gomez’s words were brought up again by the media. Germany’s sports journalist had to this point done very little to ask tough questions, or even report, on this issue.

When it comes to the issue of homosexuality the fan culture in and around German stadiums hasn’t gotten to the 21 century, yet. It is still appropriate to use hateful slurs about gays to insult the referee or the players of the opposition. Christoph Daum once compared homosexuality to pedophilia(he later apologized for this statement). Being gay is still seen as being weak in the macho culture of football. On that note, Zwanziger was right to bring up the issue, because having depressions is also seen as weakness in the world of professional football. Not being able to seek professional help was maybe partly responsible for Enke committing suicide.

A nice out
I don’t think that this is question of if a gay footballer comes out of the closet in Germany, but rather when a footballer decides to come out of the closet. How the public will react is still an unknown. I do think that Germany’s press should do more to examine the fan culture around the clubs. If a openly gay man ever will be able to play football in Germany’s top flight is dependent on how the fans, and the clubs will react.

Robert Enke’s death shouldn’t be the one time of the year when Germany’s media discusses the possibility of gays playing football in the Bundesliga. Mentioning this very important issue at Robert Enke’s funeral, with hindsight, was probably the wrong time to do so. The media has now their “one time of the year” when they have to report on the issue. Afterwards the issue is largely ignored by the media, but when challenged the media will probably say: We did report on this on the anniversary of Robert Enke’s death. For me this issue deserves more attention, and giving the media a nice out when challenged on why they largely have ignored the issue wasn’t a good thing.

What do you think? Did Zwanziger do the right thing by bringing up the issue of gay footballers at Robert Enke’s memorial service? Leave a comment below.


About Niklas

Niklas Wildhagen has been following the Bundesliga for over 20 years and he is the editor in chief of the Bundesliga fanatic.

2 responses »

  1. It seems rather like a non sequitur to throw in a bit about gays in football at a memorial service for a man who committed suicide because he suffered from depression. Both of these issues need to be talked about more openly, but I don’t see society changing to become more accepting in general of “weaknesses” like homosexuality and mental illness.

    I have Thoughts on this issue, but not much time to express them right now. I’ll expand on this later.

  2. I need to start out by saying that I’ve spent the last 6 or 7 years learning feminist theory, and that will influence what I write here. And, unfortunately, my experience is American, so that will also be reflected.

    In the patriarchy, the worst thing you can be, or be perceived as, is a woman. Women’s work (childrearing, teaching, nursing, house cleaning, etc) is devalued and scorned. Look at the sad state of US schools and how badly we treat our teachers; how badly we treat our nurses; how little maternity leave US women get (there is NO mandated leave).

    Gay men are perceived as feminine because they have the temerity to want to have sex with men, and only WOMEN do that (in the heteronormative patriarchy, that is.) Lesbians don’t fare any better, though. This book influenced a lot of my perceptions on the masculine-feminine hierarchy.

    Depression, in the patriarchy, where Manliness (strong, rational) is defined in opposition to Femininity (weak, emotional), is feminine. It’s weak, it’s something Men Aren’t. Factor in the major stigma we have surrounding mental illness (sadly, this crosses national borders), and the pressure from the macho sports world, as you mentioned, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

    I don’t know which will be harder to eliminate: homophobia or the stigma against mental illness. Homophobia seems to be decreasing, as more countries allow gays to legally marry, but the sexism that underlies it persists. More people are open about their mental illnesses now, especially depression, or at least in my various online circles, but a lot of bad information persists, like “think happy thoughts, and you’ll get over it.”

    There are no easy solutions.


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