Saturday, July 3, 2010

Germany, playing for more than a win

Germany's coach Joachim Loew lights a candle in Enke's memory

On the eve of the World Cup, players reminded the press that this tournament was different.  This year, they were playing in the wake of traumatic loss, and would do their best to honor the memory of Robert Enke, the German National Team goalkeeper who committed suicide in November 2009.  In his story for The Guardian, Dominic Fifield explains:
The recognition that they had been oblivious to a team-mate suffering so deeply struck home with Germany's players, who were told the news of his death by the national coach Joachim Löw and the manager Oliver Bierhoff as they prepared for a friendly against Chile.

"To have not realised ...well that makes you feel helpless," said Ballack, who had known Enke since he was 13. "There was shock, emotion, lots of tears. The service and memorial were good, a chance to say goodbye to him. We have to learn from this. There is the illness, but also the combination with football and being famous."
Ballack continues:
"He was scared to speak about his problem because he was scared to lose his child, or his job. Or to confess to having a weakness to other players. People have weaknesses. We should accept it. This should never be forgotten. It was a hard time, for everyone close to him and for us, as players. He will always have a place in our team. The players, the staff, the management all knew him, and it's still in our minds, and in the fans' minds. The further Germany go in the, the more emotional it will get." (Dominic Fifield, "Germany spurred on by the memory of Robert Enke" in The Guardian, June 11 2009)
His teammates were devastated not only by his death, but by the realization that someone on their team, a friend, had suffered so much and had not been able to share this burden with them. His death put things in perspective.

It is easy to fall back on stereotypes about the German squad - as clinical, for example - but this particular squad defies such templates not only in the dynamism and vision of their game, but in their public embrace of Enke's memory and in their support for other athletes struggling with depression. The squad has promised a portion of any bonus it earns from the World Cup to the Robert Enke Foundation - set up by the German FA to support research and treatment of depression.

That the team has come together like this, in the wake of such a sad loss, around such a taboo subject (especially in the macho and often heartless world of sports cultures), is truly inspiring.

(See November 2009 post: "On the Suicide of Robert Enke")

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