Football isn’t the only thing on the agenda for Bayern Munich in their stateside Audi Summer Tour — and it’s certainly not the most meaningful one. While in Washington, D.C., Bayern used the opportunity to be a part of two unifying social events of great import: an exhibition entitled ‘Venerated - Persecuted - Forgotten: Victims of National Socialism at FC Bayern Munich’ at the U.S. Capitol, and a special event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture that was a part of the club’s ‘Red Against Racism’ initiative — as reported at FCBayern.com.
Kurt Landauer (1884-1961) is still the longest-tenured president in FC Bayern history — elected for the first time 1913, serving in World War I, and then returning until 1933. That year, the gradual Nazi ascension reached a breakthrough, Hitler was appointed chancellor, and Landauer — who was Jewish — was forced to resign. Five years later, he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp in Dachau, where only his prior military service spared him.
He was, of course, far from alone in persecution, and far more were far less fortunate. The atrocities of the Nazis left deep, generational scars, and they reverberate through history. Those who were able to or permitted to escape — as Landauer was, to neutral Switzerland — were not the typical case. It’s a sobering thing to think about:
“Without the opportunity to emigrate to the USA, many of our Jewish members would not have survived the Holocaust. It is therefore very moving to be able to be at the Capitol,” said president Herbert Hainer, who highlighted the biography of honorary president Kurt Landauer in his opening address. Today, still, it is embedded in the values of FC Bayern to be “at the same time familial and cosmopolitan”: “And I hope that this exhibition, Kurt Landauer’s life journey and our meeting here today can inspire people to stand up for their vision even in the face of opposition.”
Oliver Kahn also bridged the gap between sport and society in his address. “We as FC Bayern have a responsibility to talk about the past - the good and the bad - in order to initiate dialogue and ensure that atrocities like those of that time can never happen again,” said the CEO. The club wants to serve as a “role model” in a society “where differences are not only accepted but celebrated”.
So that it can ‘never happen again’ — important words, and well-measured. Not that no injustice has happened since or is not happening now, to be sure. Rather, it’s a call to resist complacency: to continue to engage in activism and outreach, because the ever-present task is to prevent a recurrence. It is not ‘it cannot happen here.’ Nor is it a self-congratulatory ‘it will never happen again.’ It is not a celebration, but a reminder, a call to continued action.
‘A responsibility’ to fight racism
Bayern executives and personnel also held a special event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture — taking part in a broad panel including figures across different American sports. A key theme was the responsibility to not shy away from the power you have — which goes for individuals with smaller but no less meaningful platforms in their community as much as it does for global sports brands.
“We have a responsibility to stimulate discussions about hate and how we can work together to stop it in our sport and ultimately in society,” said FC Bayern president Herbert Hainer in his welcome to the 100 or so guests at the Oprah Winfrey Theatre inside the museum. These controversies are not always easy, but must be conducted, Hainer continued, “because it is necessary to learn from our past and to do everything we can to convey and strengthen togetherness in our world and our society”.
Key to the goal of heightening awareness on this topic is the emphasis that — as Oliver Kahn said — “racism is not always immediately apparent”:
In the second round of talks, Oliver Kahn recalled his time as a player. He stressed how important it is to “fill the role model function” as a sportsman with life in dealing with other people. “In my professional days in the Bundesliga, I witnessed shouts from the stands against foreign players, but often the racism in our society is not always immediately apparent,” warned the CEO, who sat on the podium alongside Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann, football player Ronnie Stanley of the Baltimore Ravens, North Carolina Courage midfielder Brianna Pinto and former Bayern player Gina Lewandowski.
“We are role models, people look up to us,” said Lewandowski and called for athletes to set an example of tolerant coexistence. Nagelsmann also referred to the responsibility of sport. But the coach also sees in it great opportunities to drive social change: “I’m sure that a team with all its different players from different backgrounds can create something together.” The unanimous opinion of all panellists was that sport embodies a sense of community and knows no differences - if this spark is ignited, it can inspire people, bring about change for the better.
Unity and community
“Hate, homophobia, and racism have no place on the playing field,” said U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch at the Capitol event — underscoring also how topics like these are not separate but equal. The different axes that bind us in our various intersections of common experiences — be they along race, sexuality, gender, class, or other lines — are as shared as the all-too-human tendencies to erupt in discrimination, persecution, and violence.
But in sport, there is perhaps at least one small — but wonderful — opportunity to thread people together across the world, and thereby to bat down hate while promoting shared joys.
In that effort, there is only room for perseverance, not pessimism; determination, not despair.
“We want people to see...that change is possible,” said Damion Thomas, curator at the museum.
And summing it all up again, Oliver Kahn — from the Capitol dinner. “We have an obligation to act responsibly on and off the pitch.”