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Deflated Smiley balloon. Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao

Nothing to laugh about in German professional sport

Some days ago, German soccer team FC Nürnberg refused to hire Maximilian Knauer as the coach of its U17s because he is said to have placed smileys in the wrong place on WhatsApp. Now the Former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has been dismissed from the supervisory board of Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin because the German goalkeeper legend smiled virtually.

Published: May 9, 2021, 10:16 am

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    Lehmann is said to have said about former national soccer player Dennis Aogo (34) in a WhatsApp message with a smiley face and question marks: “Is Dennis actually your token black guy?” Lehmann inadvertently sent the message to former Germany defender Dennis Aogo, whose father is Nigerian.

    Black quota player Dennis Aogo/German legendary goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Wikipedia

    The 34-year-old Aogo was a commentator during the Champions League semi-finals for Sky News.

    Aogo considered it correct to make this internal, apparently not very serious statement by Lehmann public. The good and better people are now collectively attacking the national goalkeeper of the victorious German team from 2006.

    “Old white man” is not a problem, but “quota black” is of course a scandal. But what exactly is a “quota black”? Perhaps a person with dark skin who did not obtain his or her position on merit? Would that – interpreted in this way – be an insult? In the case of a Sky News television panel, the term “quota” means adhering to the requirement that the broadcaster must necessarily invite a certain proportion of women and black people. These may be people that the broadcaster might actually not invite if it had real freedom of choice. Yet people like Aogo welcome and expect quotas to be in place but he curiously attacks people who are aware of these requirements.

    Maximilian Knauer, the other smiley victim, will thus not be the youth coach of the U17s. It has triggered a criminal case against the footballer for “incitement to hatred”. With the smileys he is said to have made a “racist” statement. Knauer deeply regrets his misconduct. According to reports, there had been a “xenophobic” chat contribution by Knauer in which he allegedly commented with laughing smileys.

    Smileys have now been inflated to a “conflict of values”. The board of directors of FC Nürnberg publicly stated that Knauer could not be hired because he could “never have been able to carry out his job as a youth coach after the racism incident without being burdened”. Following the logic of the board of directors, smileys have now resulted in a lifelong professional ban and early retirement for the 32-year-old.

    Smileys can sensibly not be rated as a punishable act by the criminal justice system because they do not convey any content of those who expresses themselves with this symbolism since it could have been used ironically. Under criminal law, the overall context must be taken into account, especially the suspect’s good or bad intentions. In this context, the indictment and conviction of Knauer appear to be almost impossible.

    But legal requirements are apparently no longer necessary: ​​Maximilian Knauer has already been found guilty in the court of public opinion. And others are intimidated by his example: If you grin in the wrong place – even if it’s only virtually – you’re next!

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