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The quiet goalkeeper: Robert Enke (1977-2009)
November 11, 2009 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday evening, Robert Enke, goalkeeper of Germany's national soccer team, committed suicide. At a press conference today, his wife revealed, that he had been suffering from depression for 6 years and had been in therapy. He covered it up out of fear to lose custody of his adopted daughter and his career as a professional footballer.

Despite being the favorite candidate for the goalkeeper position in the German national team at the upcoming World Cup 2010, Enke's hit several professional and personal setbacks in his life.

The popular keeper was also a prominent supporter of animal rights and appeared in a PETA campaign.

Enke is another recent victim of depression in German professional football, a condition that already forced Germany's rising star, Sebastian Deisler, to end his career in 2007.

The Guardian's Raphael Honigstein reminds German football, that sometimes you cannot go back to business as usual and Sweden's retired Patrick Andersson writes a personal tribute to his friend and former teammate.
posted by starzero (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by sveskemus at 11:43 AM on November 11, 2009


That's very sad. Especially the part about losing custody--was that a rational fear, or was his fear exacerbated by depression? Is there really an issue in Germany about adoptive parents who receive treatment for depression?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:43 AM on November 11, 2009


Depression is a terrible, misunderstood and often fatal condition.

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posted by WPW at 11:46 AM on November 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Depression is a terrible, misunderstood and often fatal condition.

Even more so in the macho culture of professional sports. I remember Stan Collymore going public with his mental health issues, and receiving little but derision. Enke's death is tragic; I can only hope it forces football to treat its players with as much care mentally as physically.
posted by Bodd at 12:03 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


How terrible. I feel for his family.

Its weird, I never really associated professional athletes with depression. They positive effects that exercise has on seratonin and dopamine levels sort of just made me assume that people that exercise for a living must be fairly stable and happy.

In retrospect, this seems obviously facile, but I never really thought critically about the assumption before.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:03 PM on November 11, 2009


You've made this into a really great post, starzero, thank you.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:09 PM on November 11, 2009


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posted by strixus at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2009


At lunch today someone said "What better figure of rock solid stability than the German National Goalkeeper."

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posted by chavenet at 12:13 PM on November 11, 2009


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posted by medium format at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2009


Is there really an issue in Germany about adoptive parents who receive treatment for depression?

I was wondering that myself and checked some websites today, from what I read, it wouldn't have happened. But then again for a depressed person, who already lost his 2 year old daughter a few years ago due to a heart birth defect, the fear might have been very, very rational.

I'v never been a big fan of Hannover 96 or Enke, but looking at the stuff that has happened to him I really feel really, really sad. First he doesn't make it in Barcelona, then he transfers to Turkey, just to face open hostility by the fans in his first match, including having lighters and bottles thrown at him for a few mistakes. Returning to football as soon as possible after the death of his daughter, as it was his way of coping, finally getting the call to the national team, just to see his dream slip away again due to an infection. Some might say it's just sports, but then again for some people kicking that silly ball is their life.
posted by starzero at 12:24 PM on November 11, 2009


I know exactly nothing about soccer, and that's how I like it. Enke, however, was my age, and I can't say I've never been there, so this kind of hits home. I've got to wonder if he had called it off, like Deisler, and recognized that professional sports is for narcissists and psychopaths these days, that he might still be alive.
posted by dortmunder at 12:56 PM on November 11, 2009


I was thinking about making a post about this. Nice job, starzero.

Ironically, at least for me, just last week Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, the German correspondent for ESPN Soccernet, wrote an article on depression in German football. Morbidly prescient, it sadly turns out. The first footballer he mentions, Guido Erhard, also committed suicide by moving in front of a train.

It seems that Enke's place in the German squad was in some danger; he'd missed three qualifiers due to illness and was omitted from the latest squad. It can only be speculated what effect that might have had on his mental state, but his wife has said that he threw himself into football as a release. If he felt that his outlet was going away, perhaps that aided his desperation.

It's just terribly sad.

lazaruslong: there's actually a ton of recent literature on depression in professional athletes, so it's a subject that's gaining traction.

NYTimes on Eagles linesman Shawn Wallace's struggles with depression.

Research article on depression in retired American football players
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posted by Errant at 12:58 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by bearwife at 1:07 PM on November 11, 2009


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posted by iviken at 1:08 PM on November 11, 2009


[I've already added my condolence elsewhere, but thank you for this Metapost]
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posted by Webbster at 1:11 PM on November 11, 2009


A comment from basketball blog Free Darko about a player who was diagnosed with bipolar that is both relevant here and right on the money:
"It just really sucks how little discussion there is of mental health in the media. To read the comments people leave on sports sites (not the cream of humanity, I know, but still) the consensus on mental health is: Problems = depression, Advantages = happiness, and that once you make a certain amount of money you become somehow ineligable for mental health problems.

"Because fandom is so tied up in idolatry, people just can't handle it when an athelete acknowledges that he has a less than perfect life. What's worse is that they react with anger - as if the athelete has broken some sort of code. It's almost like coming out as gay - 'you defy my fantasy about what it means to be an athelete, which means you're a bad person.' You're a thug, or a loser, or some other nebulous state of being that explains away being less than perfect."

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posted by Copronymus at 1:22 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. i was going to post about it myself. Such a terribly sad event. I added my condolences to the bbc 606 thread about Robert Enke at 10:55 on rememberance day - how glad i am to live in a region where we feel like this about one another despite our past.

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posted by marienbad at 1:24 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite baseball players, Justin Duchscherer of the Oakland A's, was mysteriously on the Disabled List before it was revealed he was suffering from clinical depression, with no timetable for a return to the Majors. The reaction, at least online at places like Athletics Nation, was pretty wonderful - tons of positivity and hope for recovery, as well as empathy. I remember being pleasantly surprised at reactions around the sport, given how taboo mental health issues are in the macho world of sports.

But this here reminds me we have a very long ways to go. It's still very deeply ingrained in much of human culture as well as in sports culture in general, and perhaps a few high-profile cases can, in their tragedy, help shed some light on it all.

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posted by ORthey at 1:28 PM on November 11, 2009


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posted by idb at 1:32 PM on November 11, 2009


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posted by nickmark at 1:55 PM on November 11, 2009


lazaruslong: Its weird, I never really associated professional athletes with depression.

Unfortunately it's been a terrible week for professional cycling, too. Within the space of a few days it's been reported that two cyclists - the Spaniard Augustin Sagasti and the Belgian Dmitri de Fauw - have taken their own lives.

Sagasti was the victim of a career-ending crash due to negligence by a race organiser in 1995 (they let a car onto the course). He won a huge compensation settlement, but obviously some scars can't be healed with money. He was 39.

De Fauw is a very sad story. He was involved in a crash in the Ghent 6 Day event in 2006 that took the life of another rider, Isaac Gálvez. He suffered from bouts of depression after the incident, even though it wasn't his fault, but continued his career and was racing the night before he died. He was 29.
posted by afx237vi at 2:11 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


When the Scotland goalie was diagnosed with schizophrenia he got little sympathy.
posted by the cuban at 2:13 PM on November 11, 2009


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Was only reading the other day about stress and depression in sport. Mentions that suicide rate for ex-cricketers is well above the national average in every country it's a major sport - something I'd never even considered before reading it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2009


Norwegian soccer player Stig Inge Bjørnebye recently published a sort-of autobiography about his experiences as a professional soccer player, and his struggles with depression, anxiety, and self-loathing.

Now, he very much realized that he was an insanely privileged person - a white man born in one of the world's richest countries and succeeding beyond his wildest dreams. He should thank his lucky stars.

But when you fall into depression, this knowledge doesn't make things better, it makes them worse. "Other people have real problems. I should be happy and grateful. There truly is nobody to blame but myself. I suck as a human being."
posted by Dumsnill at 2:38 PM on November 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


They positive effects that exercise has on seratonin and dopamine levels sort of just made me assume that people that exercise for a living must be fairly stable and happy.

In retrospect, this seems obviously facile, but I never really thought critically about the assumption before.


I wish more doctors got the same message in the obverse perspective, instead of telling someone who is seriously depressed to just "get a little more exercise".
posted by No1UKnow at 2:59 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The BBC has a very good article up at the moment about mental health problems in professional sport.
posted by ZsigE at 4:32 PM on November 11, 2009


How sad. The limited sport in which I participate is like happy medicine for me, so considering depression in athletes is a bit of an eye opener.
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posted by Heretic at 8:21 PM on November 11, 2009


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