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Germany: Closeted player says progress in pro soccer is slow

Teammates wore underwear to shower when they found out he’s gay

A young German football player, who requested anonymity, told Deutsche Welle (DW) that after his teammates found out he is gay, he walked into the locker room to find them showering in their underwear. Credit: scrarefs.com

A young German footballer, who requested anonymity, told Deutsche Welle (DW) that after his teammates found out he is gay, they wore underwear while showering.

“After a training session, I walked into the shower and I realized all of my teammates weren’t naked, but were wearing underpants,” the footballer, who has played for the Under-19 Bundesliga, says. “Of course I was totally shocked, and at first I didn’t know why. Then I slowly realized: it’s because of me. In that moment I thought my career was over. I didn’t want to go to training anymore.” He says by the time the season ended, he had lost his spot on the team because he had not been playing well.

He says neither his friends on the team nor his coach stepped up to support him. “In hindsight, my coach didn’t react correctly. Maybe he was just unable to cope with the situation. I don’t want to point any fingers. But I do think he should have supported me and not just done nothing.”

He says that when former international player Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in January, he hoped that the level of acceptance would increase but says he feels that homophobia in the stands got worse.

“Coming out is far more difficult when you are insulted on the pitch,” he points out. “There are the usual sayings: ‘That was a X pass’ or ‘You faggot!’ These are things that won’t change. But it is difficult to blank out such things when you hear them every day. That’s the problem.”

The young player’s challenges with homophobia in his sport is the subject of a film that is currently in the works, DW notes. 

He says he’d like clubs to get more involved in educating young players about homophobia. “I would like the use of expressions such as ‘faggot’ and ‘homo’ to be stopped by the coaches at youth level. Homophobic chants from the crowd are something that professional football players have to deal with. This also applies for other issues like racism. For me, prevention at youth level is very important. That is where things have to change.” 

He says he would like to be out and playing but is not sure when or how he will do that.

Last year, Oliver Kahn, former goalkeeper for the German national team, advised gay players to stay in the closet, even as he concluded that homosexuality is not a “big deal” in society anymore.

Kahn’s opinion dovetails with that of Philipp Lahm, current captain of the German team, who said in 2012 that the football stadium is not a “politically correct” environment and that society is not ready to accept gay footballers.

In the same year, Theo Zwanziger, former head of the German Football Association, called on gay players to come out of the closet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also joined the debate when she said gay football players should have no fear in declaring their sexuality, football.co.uk reported.

“I am of the opinion that anyone who sums up the strength and bravery — and we have a long tradition of this behind us in politics — should know that they live in a land where they have nothing to fear,” she said.

“The fact that there are still fears for some people for their own situation means we need to send out a clear message: you must not be afraid,” Merkel added.