Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke’s tragic suicide has changed little in “brutal” professional soccer, a leading sports philosophy professor said, ahead of the anniversary of his death tomorrow.
Enke had been set to travel to South Africa with the German national side to play in June’s World Cup, but he committed suicide on Nov. 10 last year by throwing himself under a train.
His widow Teresa held a press conference less than 24 hours after her husband’s death to explain he had been suffering from bouts of depression since 2003.
Germany coach Joachim Loew and Theo Zwanziger, the president of the German Football Federation plan to lay a wreath on Enke’s grave tomorrow.
Fans are also planning a memorial march the same day from the city center to the Hanover 96 stadium to pay their respects.
However, Gunter Gebauer, a former athlete and philosopher at Berlin’s Free University, says there is still little sympathy for athletes suffering from depression.
“Things have changed surprisingly little,” Gebauer told German daily Bild.
“First, there was a big shock after his death and the feeling that we must do more to protect at-risk athletes but professional football is as brutal as ever. More victims will suffer before anything changes,” he said.
Gebauer says sports stars are disgarded far too easily in modern society.
He highlighted the example of Germany captain Michael Ballack, who missed the World Cup with an injury and has now lost his place in the national side.
“When Michael Ballack was ruled out of the World Cup, first there was sheer dread but once Germany started being successful without him, his own team-mates seemed glad he was gone and he has now been stamped as a out-of-date model,” he said.
And Gebauer said any sportsman who admitted they have a weakness or, like Enke, suffer from depression, would be finished in such a cut-throat environment.
“What would happen if a football player reveals his weakness? He would be finished. In this merciless business, it’s all about the newest talent and how they portray themselves,” he said.
Just last weekend, it was revealed German speed-skater Claudia Pechstein admitted planning to take her own life after she was banned for two years last year. The International Skating Union banned her after the five-time Olympic champion was found to have had irregular levels of young red cells in her blood.
In the wake of her ban, she admitted planning her own suicide, along with her husband, but her agent managed to talk her out of it.
After his death, the Robert Enke Foundation was set up to help those suffering from depression.
Gebauer says Enke’s suicide highlighted the symptoms of the mental illness and meant other sufferers can get the help they need.
“A former world-class athlete recently said in an interview that he was saved because his family heard about Enke and saw similar symptoms in him,” Gebauer said. “So Robert Enke did not die completely in vain.”
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