Empty Promises: Depression In Football

WORDS: CHRISTOPH WAGNER

It is now four-and-a-half years since Robert Enke tragically took his own life in autumn 2009, but despite calls at the time for a wider discussion about depression in sport, the subject very quickly slid off the agenda. Andreas Biermann’s suicide on Saturday shows that nothing has changed…

Andreas Biermann

Just days after the jubilant pictures of Germany’s fourth World Cup success had filled the sports pages, the news arrived that former Union Berlin and St. Pauli defender Andreas Biermann had taken his own life, seeing no other way of dealing with his depression.

Biermann’s struggle with the illness was no secret. After the death of his colleague Robert Enke in autumn 2009, he had decided to go public, but it was a decision that came to demonstrate that the football industry in Germany – and possibly further afield – is either unready, or unwilling, to help those players who are diagnosed with depression.

After revealing that he was suffering from depression, Biermann put his mobile number on his home page so that people could reach him and, although he later admitted this was a mistake, he explained in a subsequent interview that he had received messages from many people, across all layers of society…except sport.

He also released a book, entitled ‘Red Card Depression’, but instead of being lauded for his attempts to deal with the subject, Biermann was accused by some of exploiting the death of Enke, and the condition of others dealing with the illness, to earn money. His ambition had been to offer help, but Biermann, who eventually decided to study psychology at university in order to try and understand depression better, was left feeling let down by the reaction to his efforts.

Biermann St Pauli“I would not recommend to any professional footballer to admit publicly that they suffer from depression,” he said. “All my fears were confirmed once I stepped out and told the public about my condition.”

The truth is there are no real high profile ambassadors for dealing with depression among footballers, and that seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, as those who publicly state that they are suffering are all too often portrayed to be disclosing unwanted information to the public, or smudging the image of professional football.

Biermann’s tragic story has further highlighted the need for the DFB to deal with the issue in the wake of Enke’s suicide in 2009. The topic slid off the agenda very quickly back then, as the 2010 World Cup approached and the focus of the media shifted, while Biermann stated a little over a year later that the DFB had not got in touch with him following his own revelation. Indeed, the topic appears to have been erased from the football debate in Germany.

Of course, it is not the task of German FA alone to deal with depression but of society as a whole, but the low-key reporting of Biermann’s death would suggest it is not in the interest of large parts of society to tackle the issue.

Andreas Biermann played for his neighbourhood club in Berlin, FSV Spandauer Kicker, last season. He died on 18 July 2014, aged 33.

Christoph Wagner is the editor of anoldinternational.co.uk, a football blog with a strong historical emphasis. He also blogs about Anglo-German football and cultural relations at donotmentionthewar.wordpress.com. You can find him on twitter @wagnerc23
You can follow TheInsideLeft on Twitter @theinsidelefty or at facebook.com/theinsideleft
Lead image by Michael Lucan, (CC-BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Inset image by Northside at de.wikipedia, (CC-BY-SA-3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

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