German Chancellor Angela Merkel Urges Gay Soccer Player To Come Out

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday September 19, 2012

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for an anonymous soccer player for Bundesliga, a top soccer league in Germany, to come out of the closet after he gave an anonymous interview in a magazine about his sexual identity.

The unknown professional athlete told Fluter, a small Web-based magazine sponsored by the German Government, that he has to "be an actor every day and go into self-denial,"

ESPN reported.

Once the interview caught the media's attention, Merkel commented on the issue at a press conference in Berlin.

"You need not fear," she said. "I am of the opinion that everyone who has the strength and courage [to come out] should know that we live in a state where he essentially does not have to be fearful. That is my political statement."

Merkel noted that Germany has made significant progress in regards to LGBT issues. But the politician did note that she knew soccer and other pro sports teams (and possibly fans) were not as accepting as other spheres of activity in the European nation.

"We have to acknowledge there are still fears when it comes to the social environment in football," she said. "We can only give a signal: You need not fear."

In the interview, the player said, "The price I pay for living my dream as a Bundesliga player is high. I have to be an actor every day and go into self-denial.

"Unlike other celebrities, football players have to follow the footballer stereotype," he continued. "They have to love sports, fight aggressively and be a role model at the same time. And gays don't follow that formula. I would not be safe any more if my sexuality was made public."

The anonymous athlete also said that he knew there were other gay Bundesliga players.

"We don't meet," he said. "It would just be too noticeable. It is a difficult parallel universe that continues inside the team. We don't talk about it much. Nevertheless, everyone knows about it. They sometimes ask me about my partner. I know all their stories from the papers, but they have to ask me to find out."

Uli Hoeness, president of Bayern Munich, one of the major pro soccer teams, said that he thinks a professional soccer player will come out "sooner or later" and called for the soccer clubs to "be well prepared for it, so they can give the right response." He added that fans' reactions are "unforeseeable." One of the most important steps to take is to make sure the out athlete has the help and support he needs from his club and its staff, he added.

Reinhard Rauball, a German league boss, echoed Hoeness' sentiments. "It is an unsolved problem," he said. "We need to find an answer in social consent. No-one can oversee the disadvantages looming for a player coming out."

The closeted player told Fluter that he was not sure if sports stars' coming out would change the homophobic attitudes of heterosexual sports professionals.

"It might be easier to get over if several players outed themselves at once, but I don't have a lot of hope this would help," he said. "We'd still be a minority to harp on about."

Still acceptance for gay athletes in the professional sports world is definitely undergoing a profound change in attitudes.

Earlier this month, EDGE reported that two pro football players in this country became outspoken advocates for marriage equality. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Christ Kluew both made headlines recently for defending gay marriage after Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Democratic state legislator from Baltimore County who opposes same-sex marriage, criticized Ayabadejo for his views in a letter.

"Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide," wrote Burns, "and try to sway public opinion one way or another.

"I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football League Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employees and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing."

When Kluew saw Burns' anti-gay marriage statements, he took to to slam the politician's remarks in no-holds-barred language.

"Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level," Kluwe wrote. "Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way, shape or form, affect your life?"

Back in August, the San Francisco 49ers became the first NFL team to record a video for the "It Gets Better" campaign to encourage gay teens not to commit suicide.

Sean Avery, a hockey player for the New York Rangers, came out strongly for marriage equality last year. The Toronto Maple Leaf's general manager Brian Burke has become an outspoken advocate for gay rights. His son, who also worked for the team and who was gay, died in a car crash.