T-shirts “shameful” yet undisputed racism is a laughing matter.
MUCH has been written and said about the Suarez-Evra case, particularly in the few days since The FA announced the verdict, and it’s safe to say that little new can be added, at least until the written reasons for the verdict are made public.
Opinions vary on how right or wrong the verdict was, how suitable the punishment was and how appropriate the response has been. People have opinions on people’s opinions and it’s practically impossible to find an impartial opinion.
Yet these opinions are all based on ‘facts’ that are still rather vague, few of which are actually on record anywhere. Words like “negro”, “negrita” and “sudaca” are getting mentioned almost everywhere as being part of the exchange between the two players – but haven’t been mentioned anywhere on the record, in public, by any of those remotely involved in the case.
The opinions being voiced now may well change when, eventually, the full facts of the case are known. The opinions may still be polarised even then, but at least by then it will be possible for those who really care to base their opinions on something other than speculation, sensationalised snippets and spin. There will always be those who struggle to see beyond club v club and those who see no issues in using a situation like this to suit their own needs in some other way – but this spiteful debate could actually become positive if it was based on fact and not innuendo. Individuals normally critical of decisions made by football’s officialdom are suddenly blind to any possibility that there could be a problem – minor or major – with the verdict.
Kenny Dalglish said, yesterday, “It would be helpful to everyone if someone gave us some guidelines about what you can and cannot say.” Whether that would be helpful or not (again, opinions will vary) it would be far more helpful to hear what was or wasn’t said.
Not that any of this bothers the people with an eye on viewing figures and circulation numbers. It’s controversial, it sells, it brings in the punters. And to keep it going they need people who can speak from experience to throw their opinions out there, to help promote even more debate.
Thankfully for them Twitter provides ideal candidates and eases the need to explain in the awkward early part of the phone call why they think that person’s opinion might be relevant. Instead they see the person’s opinion in 140 characters or less and there’s their excuse to call.
One of the people with an opinion on the issue is former Manchester United player Paul McGrath. He’s not seen the written reasons for the verdict either, but he’s clearly satisfied that there are no problems with it. His mind’s made up and he thinks it’s shameful that Liverpool – and one of Liverpool’s players in particular – is willing to even consider there could be a problem with the verdict. It hasn’t crossed his mind that the player he singles out is entitled to his own opinion.
McGrath was speaking about the Liverpool players wearing t-shirts showing their support for Suarez: “It puts the anti-racism campaign back to the beginning as far as I’m concerned. Maybe Kenny is trying to make a statement to the FA but I just think it is in bad taste that he sent them out in those T-shirts.”
It was Liverpool’s right-back he singled out: “If I was in Glen Johnson’s situation, I’d have thrown the shirt to the floor. If that had been someone in my time and I’d heard the comments or even suspect he was guilty, then I would not wear a T-shirt with his name on it, saying all is well and good here.”
We’ll come back to that in a moment. He went on: “It would have been much better for Liverpool if they’d have worn anti-racism shirts. It’s about respect. There’s this issue going on about respecting your opponents. It is actually a game. The game itself has gone too big; it’s about winning and the money. The actual element of football being a game has long since gone; it is all about protecting your interest, protecting your best players.
“A lot of children watch these games and to have done what they did, doing their warm-up in T-shirts with his smiling face on it, having just been done for a supposedly racist comment to one of his opponents, is shameful for football.”
Johnson wore a Luis Suarez t-shirt, he didn’t go into details about his opinions on the case or what he based those unaired opinions on. He clearly knows more about the case (at least Suarez’s side of it) than most, but for various reasons he’s not in a position to actually go on record to elaborate, not yet anyway.
One incident of racial abuse in football that hit the headlines happened off the field in 2004. It was Manchester United’s former manager Ron Atkinson, working for TV, who was heard making comments about Marcel Desailly from the commentary box: “He’s what is known in some schools as a f*****g lazy thick ni****.”
The “n” word used by Atkinson was far stronger than the variations Suarez is speculated to have used and it wasn’t a case of his word against that of an accuser. It was all on tape, there for anyone who wanted to hear it with their own ears to do so. If that was what Suarez had said, unprovoked, and if that had been caught on tape, this debate wouldn’t be taking place this week. There wouldn’t be a grey area and Liverpool would probably have started a self-imposed ban on their own player from the off.
Nobody would be able to defend Suarez for that, absolutely nobody. Yet Atkinson was defended when he came out with that slur. He lost his job and he lost his status in the game but he was still defended by some. He was defended by one in particular. Mr Paul McGrath.
McGrath’s defence of Atkinson was astounding, even more so in the wake of his comments about Glen Johnson and Kenny Dalglish: “Well, Ron’s old school, I have to say that.”
What does that mean? Does “old school” mean old-fashioned, from an era where using words like “n****r” would be acceptable? Did he think Ron maybe just needed educating that the culture of the olden days wasn’t the same as culture of modern-day England. In other words, let it go with an apology?
He didn’t say, he just said the man who called a player a “n****r” wasn’t a racist. “Jesus, he’s one of the furthest men away from being a racist. He might say the odd word that makes you think ‘Jesus, what’s happening here?’ He had this thing in training, where he’d say ‘it’s the c**ns against the rest’.”
How did McGrath, now so annoyed with Johnson about a t-shirt, react to Atkinson’s alleged use of insulting racial words in training? “We’d just laugh about it.”
Really? “And the so-called c**ns had a good team – me, Yorkie, Dalian Atkinson, Cyrille Regis – so we were delighted. Never once would any of us have taken exception.”
These comments were made around three years after Atkinson’s, he’d had plenty of time to reflect on it, he still wasn’t willing to show the same contempt to Atkinson that he would later be showing to Kenny Dalglish.
Dalglish wore a t-shirt with a player’s name number and image on. Atkinson called a player one of the most objectionable racist words known. “What he said about Desailly, that’s something you shouldn’t be saying,” said McGrath.
Paul McGrath is entitled to his opinion, but people reading it are entitled to see it in context. He can’t be right both times, can he?
Context doesn’t sell papers, sensationalism does. Far too many people claiming to care about racism have it further down their priorities than they would care to admit.