Mesut Özil, a star of the German national soccer team and the most expensive German player in the sport’s history, quit the national team Sunday and accused the right-wing German media and the head of the German football association of racism. CBS News reports that the controversy began this May, when Özil—whose grandfather immigrated from Turkey—met Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan at an event in London. Özil claimed that out of respect for his family’s ties with the country, he shook hands and posed for a picture with Erdoğan, a leader who has been repeatedly criticized for his violent crackdown on political opposition. When the photo was taken, CBS reports, head of the German football association Reinhard Grindel criticized Özil, stating that “football and the DFB stand for values that Mr. Erdoğan does not respect. That’s why it’s not acceptable that our national team players are exploited for his election campaign.”
Özil apparently reached a breaking point, however, when right-wing media outlets reportedly blamed the photo for Germany’s lackluster performance in the World Cup. “If a newspaper or pundit finds fault in a game I play in, then I can accept this,” he tweeted. “But what I can’t accept are German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad.” “I don’t want to even discuss the hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media that my family and I have received,” he continued. “It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect. I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t.” Özil will continue his professional career with Arsenal F.C., which competes in the top-tier Premier League.