Principles are a funny thing.
Honoring one’s personal convictions can lead to the heights of glory between the lines or the depths of shame. The banishment of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL due to his protest against police brutality and racial inequality during the national anthem is juxtaposed against the uproarious applauds given to Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader in his first home game in back in Milwaukee after it was revealed that he said some racially insensitive things on Twitter back in 2011.
Who is the shamed one and who reigns supreme in this paradigm? Well, it really depends on your principles. On Sunday 29-year-old German soccer star Mesut Ozil announced he would be quitting the German national team over racism and hate speech, the latest example of racism which continues to plague the beautiful game.
The third generation German of Turkish descent was a key member on the country’s 2014 World Cup-winning squad, but this year’s team was a huge disappointment for local fans as they failed to get beyond the group stages in Russia after being considered one of the favorites beforehand.
Ozil was excoriated in the media and by German officials when he took a photo with Turkish President Recip Erdogan alongside fellow Germany international Ilkay Gundogan, the Manchester City player who is also of Turkish descent in May. Those photos were then used as a propaganda tool in Erdogan’s re-election bid, which he won. However, Ozil maintains that they only spoke about sports and that he took the photo to honor the leader of his parents’ home country.
However, the way politics and secret agendas are arranged, those who likely had less honorable axes to grind against Ozil latched onto this issue like leeches, sucking out every ounce of empathy and reason. Erdogan had been criticized by the west for his crackdown against political dissent following a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Ozil said he “no longer want to wear the German national team shirt”. In a lengthy statement posted on social media, he said he did not feel accepted in German society despite paying taxes, donating to good causes there, and being a World Cup winner.
III / III
Germany’s football association, the DFB, was among those to criticize Ozil after he had his photograph taken with Erdogan.
“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” the player said. “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.”
Gundogan later issued a statement in which he said he “honors German values 100%” and never intended the picture to be seen as a show of political support. “It wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” Ozil added.
According to the CIA database, Germany is home to three million people of Turkish ancestry, but the rise of immigration angst and far-right nationalism in Germany leads one to ponder whether or not these admonishments are spurred on by the far-right. “Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim? I think here lays an important issue,” he said.
Germany’s Social Democrat Justice Minister Katarina Barley said: “It’s alarming if a great German football player like Mesut Ozil no longer feels wanted in his country.” But Thomas Bareiss, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said it showed “disrespect” and was “misplaced”, while German daily Bild said Ozil was “reveling in the victim role that has nothing to do with reality”.
Hmmm, a senior member of the ruling Christian Democrats Party admonishing a German Muslim of Turkish descent about his decision to quit the team due to feelings of racism and perhaps Islamaphobia? Who’d have thought? (insert sarcasm here).