A Life in Hiding – The everyday life of a gay footballer

The fight for the rights of lesbians and gays has taken big strides over the last few decades. But, one barrier hasn’t been crossed, yet: Not a single gay Bundesliga player has come out of the closet.

The subject of gay footballers playing in the Bundesliga has been widely discussed in the recent past. Former DFB president Theo Zwanziger broached this sensitive issue at Robert Enke’s funeral in 2009. Zwanziger has continued to do so, and he stated shortly before he left his post that gay players ”should have the courage to declare themselves”. The 67-year-old went on saying that being gay has become less problematic, even in areas like politics, mentioning the example of the Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, who had come out in 2001.

Opinions amongst the players are currently differing. Bayern striker Mario Gomez declared last year that gay players “need to come out of the closet in order to feel good about themselves.” Philipp Lahm, the national team’s and Bayern München’s captain and left back, has advised gay players to remain in the closet. Lahm stated in a newspaper interview:

” Football is like being the gladiators in the old times. The politicians can come out these days, for sure, but they don’t have to play in front of 60,000 people every week. I don’t think that the society is that far ahead that it can accept homosexual players as something normal as in other areas,”

Putting on an act

Adrian Bechthold, a freelance journalist for the German magazine Fluter, managed to get an interview with a gay Bundesliga footballer. The anonymous player talks about the pressure he is facing in his everyday life.

“The price you have to pay for living the dream of playing in the Bundesliga is immense. I have to be an actor and I have to lie to myself every day. This wasn’t a problem to begin with, but it has become increasingly difficult over time. I really don’t know if I can live under the constant pressure of having to be a heterosexual showcase player, whilst the danger of being exposed is lurking in the background, for the rest of my career.”

The player continues stating that he knows several players in the Bundesliga who are currently living under these exact same circumstances. Homosexual players have to turn up with female company for certain events in order to keep up the charade, trying to convince everybody that they are straight. Visits to places frequented by other gays are off bounds for these players.

The media, the clubs and the fans

If a gay footballer’s name would become public, the media pressure would become increasingly unbearable according to Bechthold’s interview subject:

“The stories, the front pages and the magazines. Everybody would like to know all the awful things that my partner and me do in our bed. Who is on top and who is on the bottom in this combination, which includes the super manly footballer? There are many things. My passion, which is playing football, would be completely irrelevant.”

Many gay players are doing the out most in order to not be conceived as a homosexual person by the public.

“Some players say that they are rough in their one-on-ones in order to convey an image of being a real man”, Tatjana Eggling told 11 Freunde. The cultural scientist has worked on the subject of homophobia in German football over the last five years, and has been in touch with a number of gay players.

Many gay players are afraid of taking the step of admitting their sexual orientation according to Eggling, because of the possible consequences. Some players even fear that their clubs might kick them out, or keep them on the bench if their homosexuality became public. Other concerns are the possible effects such an admission might have on a player’s future career prospects. It stands to be seen if the clubs in the Bundesliga are willing to employ players who are openly gay.

Much depends on the fans acceptance according to Eggling and Bechthold’s interview subject. Homophobic slurs and insults are still commonly used by a number of fans that sit in the stands. VfB Stuttgart and Hertha BSC are currently considering if they should punish such behavior with fines and/or stadium bans for the fans who display this behavior. The clubs in the English Premier League have taken this step already.

The reactions to Bechthold’s interview have mostly been positive, but some of the commentary a minority of German football fans provided on social media networks made even the men in charge of policy in the Vatican look like a bunch of liberal hippies.

Hopes for the future

Bechthold’s interview subject doesn’t currently know if he’ll stay in the closet for the rest of his career, but states that he thinks that it his highly unlikely that he outs himself in the near future. “Doing the first step is important”, in the player’s opinion, and that there is no telling what will happen after this important step has been taken. The player continues stating that Zwanziger’s comments were “well put”, but that their validity goes out of the window if one takes the everyday life of the players into account.

It is difficult to tell what will happen in the future, but with Bechthold’s interview the first step has been done. Now it is up to the fans, the clubs and the media to create an atmosphere that would allow gay players to feel comfortable enough to get out of the closet. “Simply being able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant with a partner” would be a dream come true according to the player interviewed by Bechthold.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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