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German Soccer Star to Gay Athletes: Come Out and Play

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Nov 12, 2010
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A leading player on the German soccer team has issued a call for his gay peers to come out and play openly.

Bayern Munich star Mario Gomez, 25, said that coming out of the closet would make for better athletes on the field. "They would play as if they had been liberated," Gomez opined. "Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic." British newspaper The Guardian noted in an Oct. 11 article that the young star’s exhortation defied the received wisdom; the German Football Federation has said that gay players who own up could see their professional lives come to an abrupt end.

That was the fate of Marcus Urban, a German player who came out to his teammates in 1997 and promptly lost his status as a professional athlete. Urban did not publicly disclose the reason for his career’s end until ten years later.

But times have changed, and Gomez argued that being gay is no longer a big deal, pointing to openly gay leading political figures Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s vice chancellor, and Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin. "[P]rofessional footballers should own up to their preference," Gomez said.

At the moment, none have; the Guardian noted that there are no openly gay players in the German soccer league. Even though political life may have become more accepting, athletes still say that gay players who come out would regret it--not because of their teammates’ reactions, necessarily, but due to what German player Tim Wiese referred to, in an interview from earlier this year, as "merciless fans" who would "destroy" any gay player who dared to disclose his true sexuality.

Meantime, the Deutscher Fußball-Bund ("German Football League," or DFB) declared its support for any player who might come out--while advising against it. Said the head of the DFB, Theo Zwanziger, "The first homosexual who outs himself in professional football will not have an easy time of it. I had thought it would not be the case, because in politics, art and culture it is no longer a problem. Even amateur football deals with it better, but professional football appears to be more set in its ways."

Meantime, noted GLBT athletic news site Outsports.com on Nov. 10, "[A] gender studies professor said on German radio this week that she knew of fake heterosexual marriages arranged for gay players and that there was even an agency to handle such things."

In recent years there has been a slow, but perceptible, shift in attitudes toward gays in the sporting world. A year ago, Danish soccer team FC Midtjylland dismissed goalie Arkadiusz "Arek" Onyszko, a Polish player, in the wake of anti-gay comments published in Onyszko’s autobiography.

The autobiography, titled Fucking Polack, was released Nov. 2, 2009. In the course of the book, Onyszko espoused anti-gay sentiments, writing, "I hate gays, I really do. I think it’s fucking disgusting to hear them talk to each other as if they are girls. I can’t be in the same room as someone who’s gay. Look at them kissing each other--it’s sickening." Onyszko cited his religious faith for his anti-gay stance, telling an interviewer that because he is Catholic, he cannot be accepting toward "those kind of people".

When Italy’s team manager, Marcello Lippi, claimed last year never to have met a single gay player in his 40-year career, the press took him to task. An Aug. 29, 2009, Associated Press article suggested that Lippi might find a trip to Milan, where a gay amateur league team, Nuova Kaos Milano, battles both athletic competitors and anti-gay prejudices.

More recently, the president of the Croatian Football Federation issued an apology for having told a newspaper that he would "certainly" not permit a gay player on the Croatian national team. Vlatko Markovic made his remark in the course of an interview published Nov. 7 in Croatian newspaper Vecernji List. A few days later, on Nov. 10, Markovic tendered his apologies, in the wake of an outcry that included the threat of legal action from two GLBT equality groups, a Nov. 10 Associated Press article said.

In addition to telling the newspaper that he would not allow a gay player onto the national team, Markovic went on to suggest that homosexuality is a pathological condition. When asked whether he knew of any gay professional soccer players, Markovic replied, "No. Fortunately, only healthy people play football."

GLBT advocacy organizations Kontra and Iskorak said that they intended to file complaints with Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) about the remarks. The groups also claimed that the comments were "discriminatory" and in violation of the law. A complaint to UEFA could result in a fine or suspension for Markovic, according to media reports.

Such penalties for soccer officials espousing anti-gay sentiment have been handed down before, the AP article said. In 2007, Otto Baric was hit with a fine by UEFA for an anti-gay comment he made in a 2004 interview. Baric, who was at the time the coach for the Croatian team, declared, "there is no place for homosexuals in my team. Homosexuality is not good."

Markovic said in a statement that appeared on the website for the soccer federation that his earlier comments had been "clumsy," and said, "It was not my intention whatsoever to insult or hurt anyone." Added the official, "I have nothing against members of any minority, least of all against those of same-sex orientation."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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