Mesut Özil retired from German international soccer Sunday, in a lengthy statement released on Twitter. Özil says the fallout from a photo he took with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May lays bare a kind of racism he’s subjected to as a German with Turkish heritage, and that “enough is enough.”
Özil isn’t the first athlete of Turkish heritage to see his professional life subsumed by controversy over his position towards Turkey’s authoritarian president. Enes Kanter, for example, has been targeted for arrest in his native Turkey for the crime of supporting Erdoğan’s political opposition, and while Kanter remains safely outside of Turkey his father has been charged with membership in a terrorist group. Erdoğan’s government has gone so far as to black out Thunder and Knicks games in Turkey so that Turkish NBA fans can’t watch Kanter play. Özil’s defense of the photo-op—“having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office in my family’s country”—can read as weaselly over here in America, but then again Americans don’t (yet) hail from a country where family members can be charged with terrorism over insults to an elected official.
Özil’s description of his treatment in Germany takes a darker turn in the third part, when he details instances of prominent Germans spitting overtly racist or nationalistic venom his way over the photo:
I was called by Bernd Hozhauer (a German politician) a “goat-fucker” because of my picture with President Erdogan and my Turkish background. Futhermore, Werner Steer (Chief of German Theatre) told me to “piss off to Anatolia,” a place in Turkey where many immigrants are based.
These people have used my picture with President Erdgoan as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies, and this is dangerous for society. They are not better than the German fan who told me after the game against Sweden ...“Ozil, fuck off you Turkish shit, piss off you Turkish pig.”
It’s also in the third part of the statement where Özil announces his retirement from German international soccer. Özil says he’s been unfairly scapegoated by German soccer officials and fans for the team’s miserable performance in the World Cup, and subjected to a double-standard due to his Turkish heritage, and as a result his enthusiasm for German soccer is now gone:
This decision has been extremely difficult to make because I have always given everything for my teammates, the coaching staff and the good people of Germany. But when high-ranking DFB officials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it. Racism should never, ever be accepted.