When Bayern Munich debuted its “Rot gegen Rassismus” campaign against racism in early March, the world was a very different place. After the season was abruptly suspended to fight the spread of the coronavirus, still more unforeseen events have brought Bayern’s anti-racism campaign back to prominence.
Protests for Dietmar Hopp — but not Jordan Torunarigha?
The original initiative followed several events of racist abuse directed toward Black players in the preceding months, most notably the abuse heaped on Hertha Berlin’s Jordan Torunarigha by Schalke fans in Gelsenkirchen, leaving the young man in tears.
(An English translation of Torunarigha’s statement can be found here.)
Reds against racism! In the stadium, on the streets, everywhere! ☝ #RotgegenRassismus @FCBayern pic.twitter.com/6sXqcfnYE9— Oliver Kahn (@OliverKahn) March 5, 2020
“Rot gegen Rassismus” was Bayern’s timely, if somewhat belated answer. The indignation over racism had been hijacked in a sense by the response to fan protests against TSG Hoffenheim’s majority owner Dietmar Hopp. When Bayern ultras unveiled a banner calling Hopp a Hurensohn during Bayern’s away game in Sinsheim, the officials interrupted the match. When it resumed, the players of both teams agreed to kick the ball around until time ran out.
The unprecedented gesture left many observers, including myself, asking why now? Why did the Bundesliga put a stop to abuse directed at Hopp but not Torunarigha?
“Rot gegen Rassismus” was Bayern’s statement just days later, reaffirming the club’s commitment to fighting racism. But the momentum was soon lost: the season ground to a halt just days later, as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold public matches.
George Floyd and Black Lives Matter
In a season of unforeseeable events, however, racism spectacularly reared its head yet again, but the source of the uproar now lay far from Sinsheim or Gelsenkirchen: it is the United States, where massive protests against police brutality have rocked the nation since George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a White Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Achraf Hakimi and Jadon Sancho both revealed 'Justice For George Floyd' shirts in Dortmund's 6-1 win over Paderborn. pic.twitter.com/k9vx4etswj— B/R Football (@brfootball) May 31, 2020
As protests mounted, players in Germany and across the world took note, and soon individual statements and personal protests began to be seen. Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi were among the first to unveil “Justice for George Floyd” written on their undershirts.
The DFB (the German federation) held a formal inquiry about the public statements, but the committee ruled against initiating any disciplinary measures against Sancho, Hakimi, American midfielder Weston McKennie, and others. Fritz Keller, President of the DFB, welcomed their “far-sighted decision.”
The Bundesliga had woken up to and embraced the Black Lives Matter movement.
And Bayern is one of the clubs that has done so most prominently. Midfielder Joshua Kimmich said at a press conference earlier this week that the team was planning some form of joint protest. “As a football player you have a big power in this world,” Kimmich said. “My opinion is we should feel this responsibility and say something like Sancho did.”
Bayern’s most decorated players of color, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, both gave powerful statements about racism on their social media channels, and teammates like Thomas Müller lent their support.
On Saturday, Bayern made the strong collective gesture to which Kimmich had alluded. The players warmed up on the pitch wearing the club’s “Rot gegen Rassismus” T-shirts, but with an important addition: #BlackLivesMatter.
#RotgegenRassismus #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/7tHofz7Gsv— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) June 6, 2020
That followed a strong statement by club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge that many might have thought inconceivable in March, when Rummenigge was excoriated by fans for comforting Hopp in Sinsheim and taking the pitch in solidarity against generic “hate.” The club’s US Twitter account tweeted his and Herbert Hainer’s remarkable statement on Friday, June 5:
Bayern’s position against racism has shifted from a generic — one might even say “whitewashed” — opposition to the idea of racism in all its hypothetical forms to focus on a very specific message: Black Lives Matter.
And that makes all the difference.
One of the weaknesses of the response by European soccer and Germany in particular to racism is an inability to see beyond racism in the abstract. “Say No to Racism” (UEFA) and even “Reds against Racism” as such celebrate a theory that every human being should support — that racism, in any form, is evil. But these campaigns falls short of lending support to the real people who face real racism. And in international soccer as in the United States, it is Black people and Black players who stare down the ugly face of racism in their lives far more often than someone like myself or Karl-Heinz Rummenigge can ever know.
Hence, I applaud the DFB’s support for Black Lives Matter protests, and I applaud Bayern Munich for finally “seeing color.”
The club has used the phrase “FC Bayern bekennt Farbe” for its “Reds Against Racism” campaign. The German phrase Farbe bekennen is roughly equivalent to “showing one’s true colors,” but it literally means “to confess color.” That is what Bayern finally has done. Now may action follow the confession!