The Sweeper: The Response to the Enke Tragedy

Guido Erhard

Guido Erhard, who also struggled with depression

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The suicide of Robert Enke has shocked German football, with the country cancelling its friendly with Chile this Saturday and tributes pouring in. As Bobby Brandon wrote here yesterday in a sensitive and honest piece, depression has been a difficult subject for the sports media to cover historically with honesty.

In the wake of the tragedy, there is some deep and thoughtful coverage of the issue, including this touching piece in Four Four Two on Enke’s personal struggles and a powerful overview by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger looking at several past cases of German footballers struggling with depression, and the various travails they had with it in public.

Yet as well as the cases of the struggles of many with depression in football, there are also some stories of how the game can also help.

“While the game certainly has its hazards for both body and soul, it can also help – even those who are depressive,” Hesse-Lichtenberger writes. “Uwe Leifeld, who played 179 games in the top flight, for Bochum and Schalke, attempted suicide no less than four times in 2006, thirteen years after the end of his career. Leifeld was lucky in that the men who heard – und understood – these cries for help were former team-mates such as Andreas Müller and Stefan Kuntz. The latter gave Leifeld a job as a talent scout. “I’m no longer on the pitch,” Leifeld says, “but that’s the only difference. Apart from that, it’s just like in the old days – we work together.”

One hopes that in the wake of Enke’s tragedy, more in the game are able to be open about the difficulties of depression and use the togetherness the sport can foster to help those facing that lonely demon and that writers won’t be afraid to keep addressing the topic.

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