Glen Johnson gets the chance to explain

GLEN JOHNSON was doing some promo work as part of one of his commercial deals and that work included making himself available for interviews with the media. Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail interviewed him and asked him about the Luis Suarez saga, in particular the t-shirts the players wore with Suarez’s face on them and the handshakes before the league match at Old Trafford.

The options are pretty limited when it comes to dealing that situation. Liverpool aren’t going to send their own press officers with every player doing work as part of his own commercial deals so there isn’t going to be someone there interrupting on the player’s behalf to deflect questions on certain topics. Even so, deflecting those questions, whether by a press officer or the player himself, isn’t always going to look good in print. It’s not hard to imagine a story talking about the player looking uncomfortable or embarrassed as he tried to deflect the questions on that particular topic.

Should the club be banning players from answering questions on that topic anyway? Johnson has more reason than most in the Reds squad to talk about the story – he’s been on the receiving end of abuse about his own part in the whole circus ever since he joined his team-mates in wearing those t-shirts in December. He was mentioned in the written reasons issued by the FA for the Suarez decision – not for what he said but for what he might have had said to him – and got abuse for that too.

He had a rugby player calling him an “Uncle Tom”, an insult that has racial connotations much like Piara Powar’s “coconut” jibe.  (Powar, incidentally, is still to apologise for that insult and the FA, Kick It Out, Show Racism The Red Card and FARE seem intent on brushing it under the carpet.) He also got some criticism from Paul McGrath, criticism that was not only hypocritical but ill-informed.

Sooner or later Glen Johnson was going to be asked about this topic and given what’s been said about him it was always going to involve him explaining his own actions and sharing his own opinions on the story. If he’d not answered them today he’d have probably found himself having to answer them on England duty in the summer.

The criticism Glen is getting today isn’t so much about what he’s said – but that he’s said it. One news agency headlines a short report on his comments as “Johnson reignites Suarez row” – yet Johnson was merely answering the questions he’d been asked. If anyone reignited it then it was the reporter who asked the questions and printed the answers.

The report itself points out that Johnson was answering questions he’d been asked, but those having a go at the player seem to have missed that. Maybe they didn’t read it all. Where have we heard that before?

It makes sense to express a desire for everyone to move on from the whole event but that’s not going to be as easy for some as it is for others. Suarez might have decided he’ll put it all in a book some day, Evra may feel the same – both players probably have enough material to be able to do that with it.

Johnson has said his bit now and the chances are that he’s not got anything more to add to that.

It’s not just those involved who feel it’s impossible to just ‘move on’ from what happened but maybe that won’t be seen until the  outcome of the Terry case is known or the next time an incident of this nature happens in the game.

Daily Mail and PA

Daily Mail and PA's headlines and captions

There are far too many attention-seeking anti-discrimination campaigners, who seem to be looking for publicity more than equality, who are stirring up trouble that seems to do the opposite of what they claim to be trying to do. The non-story about a Spanish TV advert was laughable and embarrassing.

The focus for some of the outlets who have take Johnson’s quotes is on what he said about the handshake, and for others it’s on what he said about Paul McGrath. What none of the focus seems to be on is trying to keep racism out of football.

The author of the article in the Mail isn’t responsible for the captions under the photos it was accompanied by. Whoever was seems to find it worthwhile to make a pun out of the word “race” in one of the captions, in much the same way as someone working at the Daily Mirror did ahead of the game where the handshake row kicked off.

The author does make the mistake many have of assuming the word Suarez used was “negrito”, which of course wasn’t the case, the word only getting a mention in the written reasons when discussing the evidence given by one of the Manchester United players, but the article itself is otherwise very fair to Johnson. It’s given him the chance to say what he no doubt feels needed to be said.

What’s interesting to note about initial reaction to the article by those critical of Johnson is which issues seem to concern them most. It’s not the words Suarez was alleged to have used or that he admitted to using (they often don’t actually know what those words were). It’s not the issue of racism itself.

It’s the wearing of a t-shirt and the shaking of a hand.

Johnson explained why he wore the t-shirt: “The reason I wore the T-shirt is because I know 100 per cent Luis Suarez is not racist. With the media these days and the way it was going to be blown up, maybe the T-shirts thing wasn’t the right thing to do. How should I say this? We wore them to show our support for Luis. It wasn’t to send a message to everyone else. It was just for him.”

So he wore the t-shirt because he thought his team mate hadn’t done what he was accused of doing and because he felt it showed him – not the world – that his team mates felt this way. All they knew at the time was that they had seen nothing, certainly no written reasons, that made them think their team mate was in the wrong. They wanted to show him they were still behind him so they wore a t-shirt.

No big deal, it’s just a t-shirt.

He now recognises, having seen the backlash, that the way things get blown up by the media (and certain types of individual) in this country it doesn’t take much for a gesture of that nature to be taken the wrong way. He’s got no regrets about being supportive of Suarez and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing a t-shirt showing that support – other than it giving the more sensationalist types the opportunity to criticise.

Also less of a big deal than it’s made out to be is the shaking of a hand. Where Suarez went wrong by not shaking Evra’s hand is that he must have known what the reaction would be if he didn’t. It’s no big deal – but it was always going to be turned into one.

Johnson feels that Evra was reluctant to shake Suarez’s hand and if it was as important as it was made out to be it would be worth debating whether Johnson’s reasons are valid or not. But it’s just a handshake, a handshake that should never have been made into such a big issue.

Suarez was charged on the day the English media attacked Sepp Blatter for suggesting incident of racial abuse on a football field could be solved with a simple handshake. Suarez was attacked by the English media because – for whatever reason – he chose not to try and solve the issues he has with Evra with a simple handshake.

The time for handshakes was somewhere else, in private, at some point before the day of the match. The animosity between the two clubs (despite claims that there’s no animosity between the two boardrooms) was too great to expect a simple handshake to sort things out. As Sepp Blatter, no doubt, now knows.

The British participants for this year’s Olympics have reportedly been advised not to shake hands with participants from other nations due to the risk of picking up infections. If they take that advice there’ll be many a big deal to be made from it all this summer – especially if the football team decide to go along with it.

What won’t be a big deal in the coming months, unless there’s a change of attitude, is exactly how to deal with real examples of racism. What won’t be a big deal is how important it is to just educate people about the issue of racism, to show people why one phrase might be offensive and another might not. What won’t be a big deal is the underlying issues that all these little deals are being nailed onto.

Expecting Liverpool and its players to keep quiet isn’t going to fix that underlying issue. Education doesn’t come from keeping quiet. Education doesn’t come from not listening.

Everyone can learn something from what happened with Suarez and Evra.