Soccer and Migration Backgrounds in Germany: Two Case Studies

By | April 3, 2015

 Written by Nick Kachulis, Paige Newhouse and Thamina Stoll


When we started discussing the role of migration and race issues in German soccer about a week ago, we had absolutely not anticipated that this topic would become so relevant to the Duke community a couple of days later. Due to shocking recent events that took place on Duke’s campus in the morning hours of April 1, 2015, we have agreed that we wanted to contribute to this discussion from a soccer perspective and raise awareness by telling the personal stories of two German soccer players, Steffi Jones and Jérôme Boateng, who both have a migration background. 

We also wanted to add that there are three Germans in this class to whom this incident was very horrifying as it reminded us of Germany’s history. While we are glad to say that Lukas’ and Thamina’s generation has finally come to terms with the past, the German people will always be haunted by this burdensome legacy and Germany is doing its best to provide an environment for people from all backgrounds where they can feel safe and welcome. 

Steffi Jones

Übergabe DFB-Pokal an Botschafter Toni Schumacher und Janus Fràsource: Wikimedia Commons

Steffi Jones (or Stephanie Ann Jones) was born on December 22nd 1972 and is a retired German soccer defender. She is widely known as a role model for her great involvement and activism in women’s soccer, voluntary services, and equality of homosexuals after she publicly came out as lesbian and married her girlfriend in June 2014.

Jones was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and has a German mother and an African American father, who was a soldier stationed in what was then West Germany. She was raised in a problematic neighborhood in Frankfurt, but quickly showed her talent in soccer. She struggled with family life from an early age, having her father leave early on to return to the US, and both of her brothers having personal issues. Jones cites the football pitch as a form of security and strength in troubling times. But she was, “the girl reluctantly allowed to play soccer by her brother.” Her mother wanted her to pursue tennis, at the height of the Steffi Graf era, but she fell in love with the team aspect of soccer that was missing at home with her family. She learned a valuable lesson through sport to never give up, and without football she says she would have never made it. Steffi joined 1. FFC Frankfurt (“1. Frauen-Fußballklub Frankfurt”) in 2000 when she was a member of the German national team already. In 2003 Germany won the Women’s World Cup with Jones as a key player.

After scoring nine goals in 111 matches for Germany, she retired from playing professionally in 2007 to become president of the organization committee of 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She now works as a football administrator and is one of very few female directors of the German Soccer Association (Deutscher Fußball Bund – DFB). The DFB just announced that next year current head coach Silvia Neid will retire and Steffi Jones will become the new coach of the women’s national team. Jones attributes much of the inspiration of her career to Franz Beckenbauer , “der Kaiser,” whom she idolized growing up. She has also looked to Beckenbauer from an administrative standpoint following in his footsteps after he played a crucial role in planning the 2006 World Cup in Germany (Jones in 2011). To many, especially the next generation of women’s soccer players, Jones has become the hero that Beckenbauer was to her.

Personal Honors include the Hessian Order of Merit “for many years of voluntary service as a patron of the Balance 2006 – Integration und Toleranz”. Both soccer fans and media acknowledge her self-confidence, happiness and modesty towards teammates, fans and journalists. She is admired, especially in Germany and most parts of Europe, for her involvement in a variety of issues and became a role model for “women of the 21st century” quickly.

Jérôme Boateng

FIFA_WC-qualification_2014_-_Austria_vs._Germany_2012-09-11_-_Jérôme_Boateng_01 source: Wikipedia

Like other European national teams today, Germany’s men’s national team is noted for its diversity. Germany’s 2014 World Cup Championship team featured six players – Jérôme Boateng, Sami Khedira, Miroslav Klose, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski – with “Migrationshintergründe” or migration backgrounds. Each player’s background shares a different narrative about German migration. Take Jérôme Boateng as an example.

Jérôme Boateng was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father. Jérôme’s father, Prince, moved to Germany on a scholarship to study business. Although Prince was an ambitious student, he abandoned his studies and worked odd jobs. He fell in love with Tine, a young German, and they had two children, George and Kevin, before separating. Prince quickly remarried Nina, a German stewardess. Together, Prince and Nina had two children, Jérôme and Avelina. Prince and Nina separated less than six years into their marriage.

Jérôme and his sister became products of a broken marriage. The separation of Jérôme’s parents troubled Jérôme, and he later claimed that his parents’ divorce had been the worst experience of his life. However, Jérôme and his sister were fortunate: they lived in the posh neighborhood Wilmersdorf, unlike George and Kevin, who lived in the working-class Wedding.

Despite having different mothers and living in different neighborhoods, Jérôme and his brothers remained close and found a common ground on the soccer field, often meeting to kick in football cages in Wedding. While the three brothers excelled on the field, only Jérôme and Kevin joined Hertha BSC and joined professional teams. Jérôme’s oldest brother, George, was a troubled teen and turned to drugs and alcohol. A series of mishaps later landed George in jail. Why did George endure such a troubled path? George grew up during a period when the German political sphere did not prioritize the integration of immigrants and their children. Hence, many immigrants’ children turned to the streets, booze and drugs rather than to sports. During this period, immigrants’ children believed that they could not achieve athletic success. And how could they? Without youth leagues, most did not have the opportunity to improve.

Unlike George, Jérôme and Kevin were among the first crops of German youth to partake in the DFB’s talent development program, which began in 2003. The DFB selects the crème of the crop, regardless of their family’s background, to “provide them with the technical skills and tactical knowledge” that will, hopefully, kick start their professional careers.

In 2010 the Boateng family encountered an interesting scenario: Jérôme and Kevin both played in the World Cup. Against each other. Jérôme played for Germany and Kevin suited up for Ghana. Kevin seems to feel a stronger connection to his Ghanaian heritage than Jérôme. This could be because of their upbringings – Jérôme lived a more comfortable lifestyle while Kevin, George and their mother struggled. Regardless of the reasoning, the brothers and their situation reflect current debate in Germany over integration. Many young Germans with migrant backgrounds, like the Boateng brothers, have to juggle their families’ past and current German “culture”.


Both stories are great examples of how two talented athletes have dealt with personal and racial struggles and how soccer has helped them to overcome boundaries. Jones and Boateng are true role models and important representatives of Germany. Their faces stand for the achievement Germany has made regarding integration in the past years and they’re advocates for fostering this development – because we’re still not quite there. 



Category: Germany Immigration Racism Social Issues Women's Soccer

About Thamina Stoll

Thamina Stoll was born and raised in Munich, Germany and initially only meant to stay at Duke for a study abroad year. But then she fell in love with Duke and decided to transfer for good. Before she came to the States, Thamina worked as a sports reporter at M94.5, a radio station based in Munich. As part of the Duke Athletics Social Media Team, Thamina does live-coverage of the Blue Devils' football, basketball, volleyball and soccer games on various social media platforms. She is a loyal Bayern Munich fan.

4 thoughts on “Soccer and Migration Backgrounds in Germany: Two Case Studies

  1. Shiv Gidumal

    It was intriguing to read about the Boatengs because I had always been curious about the reasons why they play for different national teams. I remember reading that they were only half brothers, but I didn’t understand the background behind it. The reasoning that you guys gave for the connections that they feel for their respective nations seems to make sense.

  2. Hyun Moh (John) Shin

    Good article, Thamina!

    There’s also a brilliant story article in Time magazine that deals about Mario Balotelli and the things he had to deal since he was child in Italy. It also mentions his deep connection with his Italian foster mother, to whom Balotelli has been deeply inspired and influenced. Funnily enough, Balotelli’s choice of nationality seems consistent with the Boateng brothers; all of them followed the nationality of the people who raised them in their youths. Maybe it is the parent figures, and how they raise their children, that factors a lot into the children’s choice of nationality, despite whatever discriminating environments that the children are surrounded with.

  3. Brian Wolfson

    This is a very interesting post, thanks for sharing! I was always curious about the Boateng brothers’ past. Now that I know that they are in fact step-brothers, it is a bit easier to understand why one would choose to represent Germany and why the other would represent Ghana (they achieved a lot of attention too this past World Cup with the 2-goal tie between both teams). I believe that their difference in upbringing could have played a major role into this decision. While living a more “posh” life, Jerome might have found it easier to integrate into German society, thus choosing to represent that country. This is interesting because it brings up the debate of whether immigrants can only fully integrate into a new society if they have money or not. And this is a problem that is not unique to Germany, but rather common all over the world.

  4. Beau Dure

    One story I can pass along on Steffi Jones — while I was covering the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, I was in a train station near a pair of World Cup volunteers. Suddenly, Jones appeared out of nowhere to greet the volunteers. They were nearly overcome with joy upon seeing her.

    That was one of several things I saw in Germany to indicate that she’s revered in her home country.

    She’s also well-liked in the USA — she was one of the inductees in the Washington Freedom’s “Wall of Freedom” before the club was sold.


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