Queer as football folk
Michael Becker, who represents [German national team] captain Michael Ballack, scoffed at the “bunch of gays” on the World Cup team in an interview with Der Spiegel. Becker attributed the team’s more elegant and agile play to their homosexuality, and said that style over German teams’ more traditional aggressive approach cost the athletes a place in the World Cup finals.
It’s the intelligent analysis on display here that I’m so taken in by. You see, men who like to have sex with men are obviously totally incapable of playing soccer in certain ways. So true! It doesn’t even need further explanation because it’s such common knowledge!
Common…among jackasses and homophobes.
For one thing, unless any of the players on the German MNT have publicly stated their sexual orientations, no one can claim to know who is gay (or bi, or asexual, etc. Or straight for that matter, though of course heterosexuality is always the assumed default). This sounds like one of those “He likes musicals and soft cheeses so TOTES GAY AMIRITE” kind of things, and I know I don’t have to say how completely idiotic that is. Becker is clearly adhering to a stereotypical gender/sexuality binary – “aggressive” soccer is played by straight men, because straight men are tough and strong and powerful, and if a man isn’t those things, he must be gay. He also seems to think that no one can win soccer tournaments by playing with finesse and style, which must really be news to Brazil and Barcelona, among others. All apologies for being crude, but I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and crap a better argument than that.
Sadly, in the footballing world just as in the rest of the world, being gay is still often seen as something bad, something shameful. Tom Dunmore at Pitch Invasion has written about this topic several times, notably about the failures on the part of football authorities to make efficient or satisfactory attempts to combat homophobia. (Seriously, go read those, as well as the others.) While there have been strong efforts to fight racism in the sport, fighting anti-gay abuse and chants seems generally unimportant to many authorities. Perhaps they think that because someone can conceivably hide their sexuality but not their race it is more pressing to fight racism because there’s no escaping it. It’s a pretty privileged and cold-hearted way to see it though, and I imagine the effect that homophobia has on gay players is something a lot of people just don’t think about, or maybe they don’t grasp the depths of it. Your sexuality is as much a part of who you are as your skin color, your ethnicity, your national origin are. Just because it’s not necessarily immediately apparent doesn’t make it less important. Moreover, just as stereotypes based on race are largely bullshit, you cannot make determinations about a person’s character or ability or talent in a sport based on their sexuality. Being treated like dirt because of who you are feels completely horrendous, no matter the context.
Of course, some people don’t believe that. The “being gay is a choice” crowd would see homophobia as far less of a problem than racism because they think you’re choosing to be gay so you could easily choose not to be and rid yourself of that unfortunate situation. There is a lot to be said about that kind of argument. In a nutshell: fuck that kind of argument, basically. It holds less water than a flattened colander and I hate even addressing it briefly.
A player’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with their skills and abilities. It has nothing to do with how many goals they’ll score, how many passes they’ll connect, how many saves they’ll make…except in the possible situations of being shunned by their teammates or their coach or being consistently insulted and dumped on by media or fans. And in those situations, the blame lies not with the player, the explanation not in their sexual preferences. If someone has a problem with gay people, that problem comes from within, not without. Prejudices are not the fault of the victims.
Jerks like Becker will sadly always be around – I don’t think we’ll ever have a world that is completely without prejudice and ill-treatment. That’s not the goal to have in mind; when complete elimination is nigh impossible, you aim for silencing hateful voices by encouraging compassionate ones to be louder. Football authorities, players, coaches, and fans should work to make acceptance and equality the norm, to remove the power of intolerant people to hold sway over the conversations.