One of the worst and most frustrating feelings is feeling unwelcome and disrespected in your own home, especially when that home is your country. It's hurtful and carries the level of disrespect that is inhumane. This week, Mesut Ozil, unquestionably one of the top players of my generation, announced he would no longer play international football for Germany, the country he was born and raised in and calls home, because of the increasing amount of racism and disrespect he has been receiving, particularly from the German Football Association (DFB) since he took a photo with Turkish President, Erdogan, at a London charity event in May. Ozil's family originates from Turkey and he is a practicing Muslim. In his letter, describing what has led to this difficult decision, Ozil reminds us of the deeply hurtful issue to which every minority can relate--being treated like an outsider in your own home.
Racism is not new to football, nor sports, nor our world in general. However, Ozil's letter and point of view is important, because it's long past time that we call time's up on the blatant racism that continues to contaminate our society. The way the entertainment industry has triggered a time's up on sexual assault and harassment, the football world is the perfect platform to trigger a time's up on racism, because it is the world's most popular sport. The beauty and what I love most about football, is the diversity of the game. Players come from all different countries to play for their clubs, and then they get together on the international playing field to play for their national teams. It's beautiful the way teammates become rivals and rivals become teammates.
We've heard other players talk about racism, we've seen it on the field, but this is the first time someone has taken such big stand against it. In the past, I've heard players discuss racism they've received as almost an accepted fact, like, "Yes, that's just the way it is." You'll often see before each match, players holding a sign saying no to racism, but it's time to take further action, and teammates need to stand up for one another. So, one of the greatest disappointments was to see the lack of support from much of the footballing community, especially Ozil's German teammates. Are they afraid? Ozil calls out the DFB for its handling of racism and its own internal racism. Do the players not realize that they are the ones with the power to stand up to racism? Despite their poor performance in this year's World Cup, they still have one of the strongest teams and some of the best players in the world. If the DFB was threatened with losing their team, things would have to change. Or is this too utopian and thought? I am having a difficult time understanding this.
Let us not forget that Ozil played a key role in Germany's 2014 World Cup win, and is capped 92 times for Germany--meaning he has played for Germany 92 times in his career which is no small number. I cannot disagree with him when he says that the photograph taken with Erdogan has been used as political propaganda by German media, and using him as a scapegoat for Germany's poor performance at the World Cup this year. This happens all too often with players whose families originate from non-white countries. When you're a star, you're one of them, when you're not you're the problem. To question his loyalty to Germany is offensive because to wear that German shirt 92 times, score 23 times for Germany, assist 40 times for Germany, and win a World Cup for Germany, a player must be pretty damn committed to Germany. Not to mention, he was named Player of the Year for Germany FIVE TIMES IN SIX YEARS!!!!
I tried to put myself in Ozil's shoes and think about what I would do if I had to take a picture with the president of China. If I were at a charity event and was asked to take a picture with the President of China, could I say no? It would probably be disrespectful if I did say no and saying no would be more of a political statement, than just cooperating. I tried to think about what it would be like if I had to take a picture with Trump, too. I'd like to think that I would say no, but you never really know how you'll act in any given situation until it happens. I used to tell myself I'd never let any boyfriend hit me--yet, it happened. No doubt, that if such a situation presented itself, and I said no to taking a picture with Trump, I'm sure many people would say I'm disrespecting my country followed by a slew of racial slurs. Really, when it comes down to it, Ozil's picture with Erdogan is completely irrelevant to him as a footballer, but as a person of color and a practicing Muslim, he's the perfect person for Germans to use as a scapegoat for their political issues and their poor performance on the pitch. As Ian Wright, a former professional footballer for Crystal Palace, Arsenal, and England, stated in support of Ozil, "We were always told to 'just play', 'be grateful' and 'stay out of politics".
Ozil's grandparents moved from Turkey to Germany, making him a third generation German. Even though his parents are also German-born and raised, Ozil faces what all minorities face, being treated as an outsider and as an immigrant, as convenient for others (and you wonder why some of us are forced to become white-washed). "I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose." He's not the first footballer to make such a statement. It's a truth. France won the World Cup this year, and a majority of the team is of African descent. Had they not win, do you really think the French ambassador who got upset with Trevor Noah would have called out Trevor's inappropriate statement? Because they're winners, they're all French--but that is not the reality of France. That is not the reality in the US, in the UK, in Belgium, and the list goes on. The duality minorities face is complex and unjust, as I have described in various posts, including "The Identity Crisis of a Banana" and "The New Way of Asking 'Where Are You From?'" I have felt the frustrations, disrespect, and hurtfulness of such duality in my own country, and I'm fed up with the ignorance and hatefulness at the root of racism.
I feel for Ozil, and the entire football community should stand with him, because it's not just about racism in football--it's about racism everywhere. How would you feel if someone made you feel disrespected and like an outsider in your own home? Think about it. How would you feel to be unaccepted and used as a scapegoat in your own home? How would you feel, if people didn't only attack you, but also your family in your own home?
Have thoughts about this issue? Share them! Let's talk, because remember...no one is born racist.
Be love. Be brave. Be excellent to each other.
BIG LOVE & HUGS