BY: EMILY COSTANZO
Image via Reuters
Just before the start of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel demonstrated his refusal to remain silent. Standing proudly before thousands of fans, Vettel donned a rainbow shirt, facemask, and racing boots. The shirt displayed two powerful words: “Same Love.”
Of course, this choice of pattern and phrase was no accident—Vettel was publicly displaying his support of the LGBTQ+ community, while simultaneously denouncing the recent legislation passed in the race’s host country.
In July 2021, under the administration of Prime Minister Viktor Ordan, Hungary passed legislation that bans those in the LGBTQ+ community from appearing in school materials or on television shows for students and viewers, respectively, under 18 years old.
The legislation, unfortunately, is not the first of its kind in the country. Prior to this, the Hungarian government outlawed both gender transition and adoption by those who identify as LGBTQ+. However, those who support Hungary’s LGBTQ+ community are not embarking upon the fight against these hateful policies alone—the European Parliament recently voted in favor of pursuing legal action against Hungary.
In the eyes of the parliament, these laws are “another intentional and premeditated example of the gradual dismantling of fundamental rights in Hungary.” Luckily, they have a number of legal tools at their disposal to efficiently—and hopefully successfully—attack this legislation. According to the BBC, the parliament is urging the European Commission to “use a new tool that allows the EU to reduce budget allocations to member states in breach of the rule of law, in order to ensure that the Hungarian government reverse the decision.” Everyone from government officials to LGBTQ+ event organizers to everyday citizens are joining together to push back against the policies, but with a far right-leaning administration in control, this will certainly be an uphill climb.
In his showing at the Grand Prix, Vettel sent the clear message that he, too, is ready to join this fight. In an era where professional athletes across the world are voicing their concerns about, support for, and belief in various political and social justice issues, Vettel’s very public display will draw much-needed attention to this evident discrimination.
However, Vettel’s activism may be nipped in the bud before it even truly begins. Manuel Neuer, captain of the German Men’s National Soccer Team, was investigated by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for his decision to wear a rainbow armband during matches. The Association’s concern? The potential “political” implications associated with the band.
Let us ask ourselves this: are Pride shirts, masks, hats, or otherwise actually political statements? If you posed this question to Vettel, he would likely answer that question with another one—is love?
Although UEFA ultimately ruled not to pursue disciplinary hearings against Neuer (nor against Harry Kane, who followed in Neuer’s footsteps shortly thereafter), the mere fact that an investigation was raised demonstrates the possibility of legal action against these athletes, rather than (or even in addition to) those perpetuating discriminatory practices.
Ironically, the same leagues who boast these athletes-turned-activists are, in some cases, the ones to reprimand them for their related behavior. We need only to turn our focus to the backlash faced by athletes who have chosen to kneel, sport Black Lives Matter apparel, or raise their fists in solidarity to see that although activism in general is embraced, activism in sport is still something many people are uncomfortable with. Lest we forget the infamous, “Shut up and dribble” comment…
It is crucial now, more than ever, that the professional athletes willing and able to vocalize their opinions on injustices off the field, court, or racetrack continue to do so. They are in the unique position to have a prominent stage to stand up for what is right and speak out against what is not, politically or otherwise. As Sebastian Vettel so eloquently said, “It doesn’t matter your skin colour, it doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter who you fall in love with. In the end, you just want equal treatment for everybody.”
 https://www.espn.com/f1/story/_/id/32165654/sebastian-vettel-stop-judging-people-like-do-love  Id.  https://www.npr.org/2021/07/09/1014744317/anti-lgbtq-law-in-hungary-will-hurt-the-people-it-claims-to-protect-critics-say  Id.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57761216  Id.  https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/06/29/euro-2020-rainbow-armband-england-captain-harry-kane/  https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop  https://www.espn.com/f1/story/_/id/32165654/sebastian-vettel-stop-judging-people-like-do-love