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More than 800 pro soccer players in Germany pledge to support LGBTQ teammates

The players expressed their support for LGBTQ athletes in a joint statement.

1. FC Union Berlin v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga
Berlin Union forward Max Kruse (center) is one of more than 800 players who signed onto the letter.
Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

There’s never been an active openly gay male player in any of the German professional soccer leagues. And this week, more than 800 players across the country announced how much they want that to change.

In a statement, the players say they will support anybody who’s struggling with their sexuality.

“No one should be forced into coming out. That is a personal decision for each individual to make,” the players write. “However, we want anyone who decides to come out to know they have our full support and solidarity.”

The appeal was published in the German soccer magazine, 11 Freunde.

The evils of homophobia have been entrenched in German soccer for a long time. Only two male pro players have ever come out, and the first one, Heinz Bonn, who played in the Bundesliga between 1970 and 1973, was outed posthumously.

A study by German Sport University in Cologne found that 90 percent of the LGBTQ people in European Union countries believe soccer is affected by homophobia and transphobia.

In their message, the players pledge to stand up against any bigotry that would potentially be levied against an openly gay player. “We say to all who struggle with the decision of coming out: we will support and encourage you, and if necessary, fight against any hostilities you may face,” it reads. “Because you are doing what is right and we are on your side.”

The entire squads of multiple Bundesliga clubs, including Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Schalke, Werder Bremen and Freiburg, signed the letter. Union Berlin star Max Kruse attached his name to the effort as well.

“For me — and not just in soccer — all people are equal no matter their skin color, religion, or sexual orientation,” he wrote. “If one of my colleagues were to come out, I would protect them from the idiots outside our team who feel disturbed, or really threatened by homosexuality.”

That is a significant statement: Kruse, one of the more visible players in The Bundesliga, called homophobes “idiots.” His comments stand in stark contrast with former German soccer captain Philipp Lahm, who wrote this week he would caution a player against publicly coming out. Lahm’s prevailing reason is the hostility he thinks a gay player would possibly face from opposing fans.

That line of fear-mongering ignores the shifting makeup of fans, and experiences of other out male pro athletes. Here in the U.S., the few openly gay elite male athletes haven’t faced widespread homophobia at the arena or stadium. In fact, the opposite has occurred. When NBA center Jason Collins came out in 2013, for example, he was met with widespread support from the league’s stars.

Fans follow their favorite players’ lead, which is why it’s so important for straight allies in sports to make themselves heard. A member of the first gay fan club in The Bundesliga told ESPN he hopes the league’s players back up their words with actions — if they are given the chance.

“Symbolism is important, but it’s even more important that those players protect their teammates and opponents should there be a coming out and when there are hostilities in or outside the stadium,” he said.

While one public letter won’t change the culture overnight, it’s a sign the attitudes around soccer in Germany are dramatically shifting. Hundreds of pro soccer players in the country are on the record supporting LGBTQ inclusion. That is a very big deal.

Translation credit: Henry Bethell, Sarah Lawrence College.