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Boateng tackles racism in debut issue of Boa magazine

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Jerome Boateng discusses encounters with racism from his past and present, including the scandal surrounding Mesut Özil. His half-brother Kevin-Prince, meanwhile, laments UEFA’s silence.

SINSHEIM, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 09: Jerome Boateng of Germany looks on during the International Friendly match between Germany and Peru on September 9, 2018 in Sinsheim, Germany. Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Jerome Boateng wasted no time in broaching a serious topic in the debut issue of his new lifestyle magazine, Boa (AZ). In an interview with the singer Herbert Grönemeyer, Boateng vividly describes his personal encounters with racism in Germany, from his youth in Berlin to the present day. Boateng acknowledges he has “unfortunately had a whole lot” of experiences with racism, “like many soccer players.”

Growing up black in Berlin

Boateng described the shock of discovering that he was the target of racism as a child:

My parents didn’t talk with me about my skin color for a long time. It wasn’t a topic at all. Then suddenly somebody shouts at me, “Hey, my little n———.” My parents explained to me that some people have problems with my skin color. I couldn’t believe it. For a kid, it doesn’t make any sense.

Racism followed young Boateng as he played youth soccer in Berlin. Abuse shouted from the sidelines no longer bothers him, he says, “but when I was younger, it was brutal.” He described one horrific episode during a tournament match against a neighborhood club in Berlin:

The father of one of the opposing players came over to our side, insulted me the entire time and yelled to his son, “Take him out, the fucking n———!” At some point I began to cry.

Taunts and racist abuse remains part of the game for Boateng even at thirty years old and after a decorated international career:

When I warm up on the sideline, I often hear how spectators make monkey sounds from the stands, even though I’ve played so many games for Germany. Or they shout things like “Piss off back to your country!” or “Fucking n———!”

Solidarity with Özil

One of the two editors in chief of Boa, Stephan Seiler, gave some context as to why Boateng decided to address racism right in the debut issue of the magazine, raising the recent scandal surrounding the former national team player Mesut Özil. According to Seiler, “The way Mesut Özil was treated in Germany gave Jerome pause.” Boa is thus also one way of “closing ranks” (SZ).

Boateng himself touched briefly on the scandal but avoided going into detail:

After the tournament [i.e. the 2018 World Cup], it became clear to me that we on the team could have done much more for Mesut and could have supported him publicly. It’s a shame that it didn’t come to that.

Boateng was the first teammate to acknowledge Özil’s decision to retire from the German national team, bidding him farewell with a photo from happier days.

Kevin-Prince: “Nothing changed”

Boateng’s half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng, who moved back to Serie A this past summer after lifting the DFB-Pokal with Niko Kovac at Eintracht Frankfurt, has long been an outspoken opponent of racism. In a conversation with ESPN, Kevin-Prince admitted he is discouraged by FIFA’s silence on the issue.

Once a member of a FIFA task force against racism, after Boateng and his AC Milan teammates walked off the pitch in protest of racist chants at a friendly match in 2012, Kevin-Prince told ESPN, “with FIFA I didn’t talk for a long, long time,” adding,

I had three or four ideas. I put them out there. I spoke to them about it. But at the end of the day, nothing happened. Nothing changed. It’s just Champions League. “Say No to Racism.” That’s it.

Kevin-Prince elaborated on the challenge of fighting racism in the soccer world today:

The only thing that has changed is that racism is more hidden. It’s not up front anymore or people chanting or whatever because they know there’s going to be sanctions, people are going to watch [them]. So it’s just a little bit more hidden. But it’s still there because if you see the last five years, a lot of things happen still, and it’s very alarming because after five years nothing has happened, nothing has changed. That’s sad.

To cite an example close to the Bundesliga, just last season UEFA dropped an investigation into racist abuse directed at forward Michy Batshuayi, then with Borussia Dortmund, at a Europa League match against Atalanta. Batshuayi could only laugh — and cry.