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The Right Kind of Support?

February 17, 2011

The German international goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, has continued with the trend set by Mario Gomez and Phillip Lahm by voicing his support for gay footballers. In an interview with Bunte magazine, Neuer declared that supporters would understand, stating: “What is important to them is the performances on the pitch of the player, not his sexual preferences.”

This kind of comment is heartening for those involved in the long campaign against homophobia, especially coming from such a high profile player as Neuer, star keeper of Schalke 04.

However, you can’t help wonder if it’s all a bit naïve. Prejudice has always been rife in football, and any player coming out would most likely be met with abuse and hatred, simply due to the narrow-minded views present in the world right now. After all, in Qatar, the nation chosen for the 2022 World Cup, homosexuality is illegal. Not exactly the tolerating atmosphere Neuer expects, is it?

What’s worse is despite the German international’s good intentions, he fails to understand the difficulty of being a gay footballer, most likely because he has never had to face the prejudice. Neuer innocently asserted that: “…those who are homosexual should say so. That would take a load off their minds.”

Here I would go as far as to say that it’s obvious Neuer has not encountered the malevolence of a group of rowdy, loutish football fans who are out for a player’s blood. It’s the same with Mario Gomez’s well meaning but ultimately unworldly comment that: “…all football professionals should admit to their preferences.”

How lovely, in a perfect world. But, there’s the rub. That’s exactly what we aren’t in. There is a long way to go before the level of homophobia can drop enough so that LGBT players are accepted with open arms.

All this contributes to why I loved Phillip Lahm’s opinion that: “If a player is gay, he is still my team mate and I would never change anything about how I would be around them.”
This sort of support is perfect. It isn’t naïve, and it doesn’t make assumptions about what a gay player should or shouldn’t do. What it does convey is encouragement and acceptance, a message that should be broadcast by everyone.

In my opinion, this is the way forward in the struggle against homophobia. Being supporting, while not acting under expectation of a perfect world, like Lahm, or even Cristiano Ronaldo, who said of the legalisation of gay marriage in Portugal, “…we must respect the choices made by anyone, because, after all, all citizens should have the exact same rights and responsibilities.”, is what will eventually make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, Neuer. Your support is much appreciated. Just maybe next time you should remove the rose-tinted glasses before urging gay players to make the most momentous decision of their life.

-L.S

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. achitophel permalink
    February 18, 2011 8:48 pm

    Good article. I pretty much agree, only I would go one step further and add that we should never be asking gay footballers to do anything (like ask them to come out, as Neuer does). It puts the onus of the problem on gay footballers (in a way it’s victim-blaming) and takes the focus off the actual problem, which is the homophobic culture.

  2. Jen permalink
    February 18, 2011 9:50 pm

    I agree with this article, while it’s nice to see footballers saying in public that they support gay players and teammates saying they should come out because “it would take a load off their minds” is obviously very naive.

    And, just being a bit nitpicky here but C. Ronaldo’s comment isn’t even entirely perfect because of his use of the word “choice”. Though that could just be a translation problem.

  3. Lily permalink
    February 18, 2011 9:50 pm

    Interesting post with some really good points!

    The sad thing is, that nothing will change until the first gay players do come out. Every ‘minority’ had to fight and confront the prejudies. Also there is still racism, sexism and so on after decades of work against it. There will never be the perfect society in which to come out.
    If a gay player came out it would be a very important step in a lot of ways. Only then we will really know how the fans/team/etc will react and get a clearer view on how they will have to be confronted. Everything that is said at the moment is just speculation. There will be people who are supportive and those who are abusive for sure, but in what numbers no one knows.
    Also footballers are put on a pedestal as rolemodels. As such it would help homosexual youths who are trying to make their way in sport a lot.
    So even if I would never ask from anyone to come out(and I know as a player I wouldn’t have the cuts to do so), I secretly hope someone will.

    Another point: We all know that players nowadays are media trained to the point that most interviews sound the same. And what Lahm, Gomez and Neuer have said is very similiar. As players they face the crowd nearly every day, so they probably know the atmosphere better than we do and also know that it won’t be easy at all. So may this be dfb fed answers to try to influence that atmosphere?

    (Sorry for the long comment. It’s just that the entry got me to think.)

  4. jenn permalink
    February 19, 2011 5:35 am

    I completely agree w/the points made here. While its lovely, and I think very necessary, for athletes to be open to having gay players in football/soccer, its not lovely to call for people to come out. That just invites a witch hunt. Players should try to convince fans & the media first before they start calling for players to come out. Try to do something to make the environment more accepting.

    Good article, thank you for sharing!

  5. bibi permalink
    February 19, 2011 4:04 pm

    I understand the post wholeheartedly but I think the words of Neuer and Gomez are actually not to be taken by gays in the closet. However wrongly they might have been worded, I think they are important for the next generation of fans. the kids idolizing these players need to hear these words to realize yelling nasty gay-related comments when your striker doesn’t score or your keeper doesn’t stop the ball is wrong. Same as racism. From all the homosexual people i know in my life, friends and family, I know that the coming out is something you chose by yourself and with yourself. I do not think that Neuer or Gomez meant to actually tell somebody to do anything but merely meant it as an ‘it’s okay, we’re behind you’ kind of statement. However, the teammates or clubs are certainly not the problem but the crowd and they need to be taught some things or two. I absolutely can understand that a player is reluctant to reveal his/hers preferences in order to avoid becoming a target. It’s bad enough already in the stadiums and players are already confronted with nasty comments all the time. This is what has to change first. Therefore I think that when the idols express something like that it’s a good thing. You might not be able to change the perspective of an old homophobic ass but you can reach a generation that is already more open. It certainly would help if a no longer active successful player comes out one day. Up until now I can understand that a player doesn’t want to be under a microscope or judged by his lifestyle rather than his performance on the field, which ultimately would happen. It’s sad, sure but I’d like to see things from a positive point of view. Look at what is already accomplished. My best friend is openly gay and always says it’s easier in these days. Not everywhere and it’s certainly not all good but things do progress. Hence I understand your point of view but I also think that such statements should be looked at from a different view as well.

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