Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Enke's suicide tragic
Victim of depression carried unjust stigma
ROBERT Enke couldn't escape the shadow. It had followed him for years, perhaps decades, blotting out all traces of light -- carrying despair where there should have been hope, desolation where there should have been joy. It was too much for him to bear.
On Tuesday afternoon following training with his Hanover teammates, the goalkeeper parked his car at a train station where he often walked his dogs, lay down on the tracks and ended his life. His suicide note revealed what many who quickly learned of his death had immediately suspected.
Enke was clinically depressed. He had been receiving treatment since 2003 and had experienced some improvement, although the death of his twoyear- old daughter in 2006 had signaled a downturn in his condition. Nevertheless, he and his wife Teresa decided to keep the matter a secret. They adopted another little girl in May, and Enke lived with the constant fear that the authorities would find out about his condition and nullify the adoption.
He was also worried for his career. And rightfully so. Despite his status as a top Bundesliga goalkeeper and German international, he knew his illness would not endear him to the rigid, macho-man environment of professional sport. The matter was not without precedent.
When Enke's national squad teammate Sebastian Diesler came forward with his depression in 2003, he was quite publicly ostracized. Bayer Leverkusen captain Jens Nowotny went so far as to say that Diesler had come down with a "fashionable illness."
Christian Hochstatter -- a club official with Borussia Monchengladbach -- agreed, saying, "Nobody was suffering from such illnesses when I was a player."
As absurd as both comments were, they did the trick, and Enke became even more resolved to keep his secret. He may have feared that his depression would make him unpalatable to his coaches, teammates and fans. He may have pressured himself into believing the myth that wealth, talent and persona should have made him immune to mental illness.
But I doubt it.
Like anyone who has experienced depression, Enke probably understood that the disease knows no bounds. It doesn't discriminate between soccer players, businessmen, farmers and sportswriters. The very notion that professional athletes are somehow more susceptible to mental illness is preposterous, and it belittles what is a very serious condition for people in all walks of life.
Sure, the world of professional sport comes with a unique set of expectations and obligations. It can be a harsh, even ignorant, crowd. But it's no different than the myriad workplaces, church congregations and home situations that harbour similar stigmas about depression. These stigmas aren't soccer problems; they're social problems.
Yes, Robert Enke was a goalkeeper of international renown, rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he was a victim of depression who just happened to play soccer. The dark shadow of the soul is treacherous and indiscriminate.
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