Pardon, if you’ll permit, a brief reflection outside the purely sporting part of the Bayern Munich world.
This year, June 20 is Juneteenth observed – the celebration of the end of chattel slavery in the United States via a Union Army general’s proclamation on June 19, 1865, in Texas, two months after the end of the Civil War. It is a time to reflect on ugly aspects of our past; how they arose from our human nature, as well as how their legacy has endured across the generations, as we endeavor to forge a more hopeful future.
June is also Pride Month, in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising which began on June 28, 1969, after New York City police raided a gay club in Greenwich Village, sparking massive protests. Pride is now a month-long celebration of love and acceptance around the world. Bayern fans will recall the rainbow armbands and The Allianz Arena lit up in Pride colors from last year’s Euros — as well as Leon Goretzka’s famous goal celebration as he smashed Germany through to the Knockouts.
More recently, Die Mannschaft took a knee alongside the English team before their Nations League showdown. The action originated in 2016 when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew attention to racial injustice by declining to stand for the customary pre-game playing of the national anthem. Such displays of nationalism aren’t typically as entwined with professional sports in other countries, but the gesture stuck, a symbol of solidarity.
When protest becomes ritual, there is often a natural concern. Certainly, cynicism about the degree to which corporations glom onto Pride for their own ends seems well-placed. Yet refusals can become statements in their own right, and gloss over the point that there are stark differences in people’s experiences which, if we have only ever failed to really notice, we should rectify.
And change is possible! In 2007, the NBA was rocked by an explosive study suggesting referees were notably affected by racial biases. After a firestorm of attention — but no apparent change in policy — the same researchers concluded that things had changed by 2014. Sometimes, shining a little light is just what we need.
In football, Black players still sometimes encounter racism. Romelu Lukaku was greeted by “monkey” chants in Italy, an experience that is depressingly common. German national team players have likewise faced racist abuse before, as in Wolfsburg in 2019.
It’s not just the fans, either: commentators frequently reduce Black players to superlative physical dimensions, while lighter-skinned players are more likely to be characterized as cerebral. That’s a phenomenon easily recognized across sports; here’s a Key & Peele sketch satirizing in the context of American football.
Sport Bild memorably named a part of the 2018 World Cup Squad, including Jérôme Boateng, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Özil, the “Bling-bling gang”, and alleged they were discontent with the exclusion of Leroy Sané.
Özil sensationally quit the team after the tournament, writing, “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.” Özil’s career has met (numerous) self-inflicted downturns since then, but it can’t have helped that some of his teammates at the time reacted, if only initially, by denying the realness of his experience. Sané has had to reassure fans about his membership in ‘bling-bling’: “You are welcome to come to my house and see if there are really diamonds, gold chains...I don’t own any of these.” But what, indeed, if he did?
For his part, İlkay Gündoğan and the rest of the Germany team had no problem taking the knee with England. “We want to support this whole initiative”, he said prior to the June 7 contest. “We did this last year at the Euro and, of course, we will do it tomorrow too. [...] We talked about it inside the team and we will support the opponent.”
Here at BFW we have a wonderfully broad and diverse community. Bayern itself is a global brand – a key pillar of its success – reaching people from all walks of life, from many different backgrounds, and who don’t necessarily have the same perspective on every issue.
That diversity is our strength. We can take the opportunity offered by these connections, forged through a shared appreciation of our favorite club and the beautiful game, to bring us all a little closer together, and strive to keep the world shining ever better.
Well. Thank you for reading! Now, back to your regularly scheduled Bayern programming <3