Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Germany's Philipp Lahm and the Gay Soccer Player Question

Germany's national team captain Philipp Lahm is getting a lot of flack these days for his new book, which includes criticism of teammates and competitors. He's backed off on some of that, reportedly, but today the hullaballoo is all about Lahm's comments that gay football players should stay in the closet and not publicly disclose their sexuality, lest they become the target of intense public scorn.

It's accepted as scriptural truth by many on the Left that every gay public figure should be public about their sexuality, because the more people see that gays and lesbians are all around the world, the more quickly prejudice will fall. I frankly tend to agree with that, and in fact I think that's what is causing the steady erosion in anti-gay prejudice here in the United States – more and more people are simply seeing that their neighbor, daughter, police officer, etc., is gay and they're realizing that it doesn't really matter, certainly not in a negative way. But I am also sympathetic to people in the public eye who fear that it would ruin their careers. You know what, it would for many of them. For every Neil Patrick Harris, there's one or more Rupert Everetts, whose advice is strikingly similar to Philipp Lahm's.

Gay-baiting in professional sports is pretty deep-rooted. Even in relatively tolerant Germany, it still makes headlines when the gay issue is brought up. The agent of Michael Ballack, the previous team captain, ridiculously accused the team's failure to win the World Cup on the presence of, in effect, a gay mafia on the team. The public reaction (at least reported in the German media that I was following) is indicative of a good trent; it seemed to treat Ballack's agent as the ridiculous figure he is and was generally supportive of the idea of gay footballers. After all, Germany has an openly gay foreign minister (Guido Westerwelle) in its conservative-liberal coalition government.

But Westerwelle's been known to be gay for some time, and his career isn't in danger, unless he doesn't improve Germany's shaky foreign policy performance. There are a number of popular gay politicians in Germany, including Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit. A young person trying to ensure that they have a career is facing a different constituency, if you will; football fans are fans of the players in a much more personal way than voters are fans of the politicians. And thus Lahm felt it necessary to let his readers know that he himself is not one of the gay players on the national team: "First, I am not a homosexual. I am not married to my wife Claudia for appearances and I do not have a friend in Cologne with whom I really live," Lahm wrote in his book, A Subtle Difference, according to The Local.

I wouldn't be too hard on Lahm, whether he's straight or gay. He's not a raving anti-homosexual. Those people are on U.S. sports teams and running for the U.S. president, they're not popular German football players. Furthermore, Lahm's is not the only voice on this issue; his teammate Mario Gomez has given gay players the opposite advice: Come out, it'll be fine.

More and more, Gomez will be proven correct and Lahm incorrect, but that's just because the public is increasingly tolerant of homosexuality and uninterested in making it a heated topic. So I do hope that gay German soccer players will publicly disclose their sexuality, but I definitely respect the decision of any who decline to do so. Assuming they're not crusading against gay rights while they're in the closet, of course.

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