Church Meets Football

So, you’ve probably read some excerpts from this interview, which Lahm and Margot Käßmann gave to the evangelistic online magazine. (She is the editor of this magazine, by the way.) I wonder how they came up with the idea of asking Lahm to take part, but I digress.

Some newspapers have published several answers from it, and I looked forward to reading the whole thing. And today Lahm posted a link to it on his official Facebook account, so I’m very grateful to him because otherwise I would not have found it. There’s also a short video accompanying the interview.

That being said, here it is! Happy reading!


Many Gifts, One Spirit

How does one move his team forward? Margot Käßmann and Philipp Lahm talk about responsibility, commitment and contemporary role models.  

chrismon: What is a good team?

Margot Käßmann (MK): In a good team, individuals contribute their strengths in order to achieve a common goal. Respect is important, also in terms of understanding, when for teammates, or colleagues, things don’t go as planned.

Philipp Lahm (PL): I see it the same way. Different types of people are needed for various positions and tasks. In the case of a football team, all players have something big in common: we must go through the grid. Everyone has to prove himself anew in every game, from a youth team to the professionals. One at the great FC Bayern, another at a smaller club, the next one abroad. It’s always about making one more step forward. But obviously, one can’t compare our goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, with a striker.

MK: It’s also biblical. First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 12: “Many gifts – one Spirit”. I also find that interesting with regard to the history of Reformation. Martin Luther is always portrayed as the central figure, but there were so many people who worked together on various levels. It starts with Jan Hus (John Hus). Melanchthon, next to Luther, was a key player in the period of Reformation, Zwingli and Calvin turned ​​the Reformation into a worldwide movement. Even the women in the Reformation were important, for example Argula of Grumbach.

Why do we like to reduce stories to a star (celebrity)?

MK: The media needs a face that people associate it with. Basically, it’s the same with the Reformation: certainly, the Reformation in Germany wouldn’t have developed so strongly if it hadn’t been so focused on Martin Luther.

PL: I think that the times we live in are very uncertain. And the issues are very complex. Thus, we need heroes to look up to because they’ve demonstrated courage, and their success is encouraging.

When you were a child, did you have a hero, a heroine?

MK: As a child? I don’t remember. In my youth, that was clearly Martin Luther King. He was devout and political. Against racism, for peace and justice.

PL: I, of course, had football heroes. I started playing at the age of 5. The first World Cup that I saw was in 1990. Lothar Matthäus with the World Cup trophy in Rome, that was a dream. Later on, I also wanted to win many trophies.

MK: It really came true!

PL: The World Cup trophy is still missing, unfortunately. Apart from the heroes in sports, my grandparents were my heroes. We the kids, together with my parents, were living with them in a house. I often spent time with them. They have a dream marriage, they’ve always cared about each other and about us, their grandchildren. Till this day, my family is something wonderful for me, my grandparents are true role models.

MK: By the way, my eldest daughter is a little bit older than you, she has a child who is almost as old as yours. I’m quite confident: your generation will be a role model for children and grandchildren all over again.

PL: When it comes to my son, I took something away from what I’d experienced with my grandparents. And why not? It did me good. I had lived at home till I was 18, 19, and if you don’t take anything away from that experience, something went wrong: either parents or grandparents did something wrong.

Mr. Lahm, as a captain, how do you manage for the players on your team to be not only competitors but also teammates who trust each other?

PL: I must know what is going on within the team. And I have to talk a lot. If there’s something bothersome, we sit down at a table to find solutions that, preferably, everyone can live with. This creates trust. Ten years ago, when I started, things were different, more hierarchical. But my generation, and many players who are ten years younger than me, which is a new generation in itself, grew up differently: if there are problems, you may ask and expect answers.

But at times, one must also say, “Friends, this is how it works, and that’s it!”

PL: Obviously. However, I must at least explain why things are this way and aren’t going to be decided otherwise. One must learn to do that from when he’s a kid.

MK: It’s about a balance between, on the one hand, guiding and directing through understanding and, on the other hand, saying “here I stand, I can do no other” (we don’t know for sure if Martin Luther really said those words). Yet, there are moments in life when people must stand up for their basic beliefs with that attitude. Even in the church, one can’t get through a wall if no one else is coming along. It’s about taking along as many people as possible, persuading them, inspiring them. But he, who is convinced of something, must also press ahead at times. And withstand criticism. A dispute about the truth is good, we work out our opinion also through discussions with an opponent. Sometimes I clarify my position only through a dispute. We need that in a democracy as well, otherwise there’s moral cowardice, and that supports a dictatorship.

PL: That’s right. Yet, one must argue within the rules. As a team, we travel with 50 men and 2 women. Without the rules, I don’t know how it would end.

Who sets the rules?

PL: In the end, it’s always the coach. Nevertheless, something has changed a lot in recent years: we the players and everyone who belongs on the team, e.g. the physiotherapists, the managers, can come up to the coach and suggest some changes. Those don’t have to be world-shattering issues. For example, after a training on Sunday, all of us should have lunch together. But for us, the players, it’s also a family day, something special. So, we asked the coach, “Can we skip it?” When players have good arguments, they will be heard.

Mr. Lahm, you have a foundation. What triggered it?

PL: The impressions from 2007. I knew that the World Cup 2010 would take place in South Africa, so I wanted to get to know Africa. I spent a week in South Africa and Swaziland. I met children who didn’t have a school to go to. The lessons were held under the trees. The children had to deal with a mile-long way to get there. If it rained, school was canceled. Those images stayed with me. I wanted to do something and decide what I support. But I want to honestly say that, of course, I must concentrate primarily on football. However, I still wanted to help right away without waiting until the end of my professional career. And I’m lucky that many competent people support me in the foundation.

This mentality of helping others, how widespread is it in Germany?

MK: Many people get involved. Without them, there would be no church council, no fire department…

PL: … and no football club…

MK: … and also no refugee care. Or, we can also think of reading mentors who practice reading with children twice a week for two hours. All of that wouldn’t work if there weren’t any people involved. A lot is going on here.

When it comes to getting involved, what do you expect from the church?

MK: [I expect it] to encourage people to get involved. The chances are good. Many people who are not that religious say, “I go to church because I know that good things will be done by using the church taxes.” In particular, for children and the elderly, as well as for those who are most vulnerable. We know that about 20 percent of our members procure more than 80 percent of church taxes. Many of those who can give a lot are happy to give.

Do you expect famous athletes to be role models?

MK: That’s, indeed, a biblical wisdom: “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded”. I was also lucky to be born a woman in Western Europe. In Congo, my life would’ve been different. Thus, I see it this way: I’m in a cycle, and at the moment I can give what others need. But I can quickly become dependent on others. And you, Mr. Lahm, get something in return for your help, namely recognition. “It’s more blessed to give than to receive”, that’s the last biblical reference, I promise.

But you will never be able to help everyone.

PL: So, we should do nothing? My foundation doesn’t do work only in Africa, but also in Germany, where we organize summer camps every year. Here, too, there are many kids who don’t know what the word “vacation” means. Last summer I met an 11-year-old girl whose mother comes from another country and doesn’t speak German that well. The girl does office-related tasks and runs many other errands for her mother. At the summer camp, she can be just a kid for a week. When a kid like that smiles gratefully and says, “That was nice!”, that’s a wonderful sign of recognition for any person. Helping others is something quite beautiful. Of course, I can’t help every child in the world, but [I can help] as many as possible.

Those who are committed to such causes often hear that they are “do-gooders”. Does that bother you?

MK: The word itself doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is only the fact that it’s used in a derogatory way. I don’t like this cynical tone, “They sure do believe that they can change the world!” What’s the alternative? Probably not doing anything! No one can change the whole world. Yet, as an African saying goes, “Many little people in many small places, who take many small steps, can change the face of the world.” A “do-gooder” should be a positive term for the people who at least take that step they can take.

Cynicism is worse than an open conflict and dispute ?

MK: Yes. And it’s annoying when the reality, which we can’t ignore, is used as an argument. For example, I think that the arms export must be addressed. Why should we sell tanks to Saudi Arabia? I can’t think of a reason. And I don’t let myself be fobbed with a reference to the economic growth . In what country do we want to live ? I do not want to live in a country that approves of the arms export to that extent.

PL: Tough competition and humanity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. My former teammate Breno made ​​a big mistake (arson), for which he got a prison sentence. But he came from Brazil when he was 17 years old, not an easy situation. For him, this was such a foreign place, and he hasn’t been able to cope with that. I think it’s nice that now he has a job at the office of our club in order to get his life back on track. I like that FC Bayern helps players who experience difficulties.

Frau Käßmann, you conducted a funeral mass following Robert Enke’s death. Do we underestimate the fact that public figures also have weaknesses?

MK: The pressure on the players is immense. They may not show any weaknesses , they should be heroes, they are exposed in the media, especially on the Internet, to a constant observation. Robert Enke’s death was such a shock to people in Hanover and Germany also because he was so admired. Why did he think that this illness, the depression, shouldn’t be known? At first, I didn’t want to conduct the funeral mass. But then parents wrote to me, telling me they did not know what to tell their children. Fortunately, a church is a place where one can still get a response different from that in the stadium.

PL: Even if we make a lot of money and enjoy privileges, it’s not easy to become a professional football player. You must have a strong personality. However, things have somewhat changed. Nowadays, weaknesses are more easily tolerated than 10, 20 years ago. But you’re right, Frau Käßmann: the Internet did not exist before, and everyone can insult someone else online, completely anonymously.

MK: I find that unbearable. What does it trigger in young men, when people write something that they would never say to players face-to-face? That must be so mentally tiring to read it all. In this time and age, one already demonstrates a great attitude if he can publicly stand up for something when thrown in the dirt by anyone online. Hence, many people don’t take a stand: if I make no difference, I don’t have to fight these repercussions either.

PL: I haven’t really started reading what people write about me online. I look at the notes in the sport section. But the comments under reports? Don’t ever read that! And if the first comment is good, don’t read further! I advise young players that the less they read about themselves, the better off they are. When things are going well, they like to read what people write about them. Yet, there are also other times.  

MK: I’ve made a mistake of reading comments. Sometimes I was disgusted by them. What kind of people insult others in such a way without revealing their name?

PL: That’s why my home in Munich is important to me. My friends are honest, they also criticize me. They don’t just pat me on the shoulder, saying how well I played. With friends, I can be the way I am and don’t have to always talk about football. I, for example, like to talk about politics.  

How do you feel when people in the stadium are swearing, thus trying to provoke?

PL: When it’s not directed at an individual player, the team doesn’t have a problem with it. We’re a group, we’re a club, and in football it’s normal that not everyone likes us. But provocations against individuals, that’s not acceptable! Then people who are around have to intervene.

And what if you get hit in the nose for that?

MK: You shouldn’t do it on your own, you can ask five more people, who are around you, to step in along with you.

PL: Exactly. That’s the best approach.  

Do you think of yourself as a role model?

PL: Yes. And I’m always aware of that because I know that so many kids listen to what I say on TV. That’s a responsibility and a chance to impart respect and fairness.

MK: This is what I like in the Doctrine of Reformation: the fact that not only cloistered and celibate life is the important life before God, but that you – from wherever you stand in the world, whether as a craftsman or a football player – have a responsibility. This is what Luther meant: wherever you are at in life, you should live responsibly before God, before people and yourself. You aren’t just a young millionaire who has a cheerful life.  

(translation ©unavis; it’s forbidden to use it without my consent)

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