The Right Kind of Support?
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.