Throw-In: Leon Goretzka – show your colours

Katrin Separator March 1, 2020

We live in a world in which more and more people seem to think that it is perfectly okay to openly spread and support right-wing ideas in public, a world in which we are confronted with news of racist, sexist and homophobic attacks and assaults on our fellow human beings on an almost daily basis, and a world in which many football fans in the stadiums deem it proper to massively insult players on the field because of the colour of their skin. 

I personally live in a world where I am called “mulatto” on the street and where I have often been asked to walk on the right-hand side of the sidewalk since this is Germany after all, or to go back to where I came from (I don’t think the elderly gentleman who recently threw this at me meant my hometown Frankfurt (Main)).

Since this obviously is not the world I want to live in, it is important to me to counter such developments as best I can. But when I say on Twitter that there is no place for racism in football stadiums or anywhere else, I reach 1000 followers who probably hold much the same opinions as I do anyway, because otherwise they wouldn’t follow me. 

However, if someone like Leon Goretzka speaks out for tolerance and equality, the situation is totally different. Football players have a huge reach and they are also often seen as role models in a society. Not everyone feels comfortable in this role. But Leon Goretzka accepts it – and lookes genuine doing so. So when he says in interviews that he observes the recent successes of the AfD in Germany with great concern and that a visit to a former concentration camp should be a mandatory element of a child’s education in school, this has an immense and not to be underestimated significance. 

Leon Goretzka’s commitment is not met with universal approval and recognition from all quarters – he sees this as one reason why his fellow players are often afraid to take a stand; but fortunately, he himself doesn’t let the fear of experiencing “extreme backlash” or holding polarizing views hold him back. I would wish that many more players would follow his example.  

“Key is what happens on the pitch,” the former famous football player and coach Adi Preißler once said. This now legendary adage is of course true about the game of football itself. In the meantime, however, for many players it has also become key what they do off the pitch, whether they want it or not.

There is another reason why I appreciate Leon Goretzka’s outspokenness so much. In November last year, Bayer Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah, Leon Goretzka’s teammate in Germany’s national team, said in an interview with “Der Spiegel” that it has to end that “only dark-skinned players fight racism.” 

With that, he completely expressed my feelings too. It is almost a matter of course that German players from a foreign background speak out against racism, as unfortunately many of them have been faced with racism at some point in their life themselves, and they come back into the public spotlight with every new racist incident. I won’t go out on a limb too far in saying that Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer have probably rarely been exposed to racist hostility so far in their lives. Nevertheless, we need their voices, their expressions of indignation, and their outspoken support. Leon Goretzka has recognized this and started to act accordingly.

Equal rights and the right to be treated equitably are some of our most fundamental democratic values. Seen in this light, it should ideally not be necessary to publicly acknowledge these values in the first place – and then, on top of everything else, face a “shitstorm” to boot. But as long as this ideal world is more wishful thinking than reality, I highly welcome all Leon Goretzkas.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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