When This Soccer Star Quit Germany’s Team, It Sparked Discussion About How Others Label Us

“I’m German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

Mesut Özil is done with Germany. For good.

The 29-year-old soccer player made that very clear in a series of statements he posted on social media on July 22. In these posts, Özil addresses the controversy surrounding a picture he took with Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, that may have implied he supported the president. Additionally, he focuses on his announcement that he's retiring from Germany's national soccer team, citing racism towards his Turkish descent as the culprit, especially after the team lost the World Cup this year.

"I'm German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," Özil said. 

Özil's retirement comes shortly after Trevor Noah said, "Africa won the World Cup," after France's World Cup win, based on the fact that many of the players on the French team have African roots. Noah's comments sparked controversy to the point where Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the U.S., wrote him a letter about how the country "does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion, or origin."

For Özil, the issue of racism hits home for him as he reflected on how the German Football Association, known as the DFB, has never supported him being Turkish and German over the years. 

"The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt," he said. "I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten. People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has many players from dual-heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent."

Özil isn't the first German player who has faced racism in the DFB. Just 11 years ago, the association itself investigated a claim that former player Gerald Asamoah was called a "black pig" by Roman Weidenfeller, another German soccer player. Asamoah was born in Ghana but grew up in Germany.

As Özil looks ahead to his future without the DFB, he's started doing preseason training with the Arsenal Football Club in England. But even as he begins to put the DFB in the rearview mirror, he's still got a lot of adjusting to do without it.

"I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don't," he said. 

Özil and Noah both make important points that it's quite possible for people to have history, ancestry, or another relevant connection to more than one country or demographic. Here's hoping that his next team — and its respective fans — recognize and celebrate this.

Cover image: CosminIftode / Shutterstock.com

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