D3D4 Columnist Darren Young looks at how being offended is now some people’s favourite past time…
All Aboard The Fastest Bandwagon In The West
I played tennis on Monday night and, rarely for me, I won. The guy I play once per week often prevails, but my usually wayward serve was on the money for once.
When I got back I said I’d ‘kicked ass’. My wife smiled, gave me a high five (it just seemed like that kind of moment) and said well done and that was it. She did not feel the need to enquire about the condition of my playing partner and any injuries he may now have. Neither did she call the local hospitals to check if he’d been admitted with severe bruising of the rear end. This was because she understood the context; I hadn’t actually put my foot in the direction of his arse and caused any undue pain, it was simply a figure of speech.
This context thing is quite important. Otherwise, every time I’ve said something along the lines of ‘I killed them’ ‘they’ve got away with murder’ or ‘they’ve killed me’ we would need the police involved and that’s just daft. Especially over a game of tennis.
But it seems that context is less important when it comes to social media. Or rather, it’s sometimes convenient to ignore it or pay it less attention; particularly if it gets in the way of a good story.
I’m talking about Phil Neville of course, whose regrettable choice of words landed him in hot water before he’d sat down for his first press conference as manager of the England Women’s team. I’ll declare an interest here; I see a lot of FAWSL matches as part of my job and I love to see England doing well at all levels, so I’ve watched the proceedings with interest. As per usual, the new coach had to issue an apology for past behaviour – the big difference being that this time they’d found out about it at the start and not three years after he’d taken the role.
But it was the only topic in town. Forget the upcoming She Believes Cup, World Cup qualifiers or the finals; I heard a clip on BBC radio where a reporter in the press conference asked if he was sexist or misogynistic, in light of his comments in 2011 and again this year when he referred to ‘battering his wife’ (he’d explained this was in the context of beating her at table tennis) and clearly joking that he didn’t say good morning to women one day because he thought they’d be too busy cooking breakfast.
He said he wasn’t. I agree, and Baroness Campbell staked her reputation on it, and in my experience, the people who make jokes so publically are the ones who are very much the other way inclined. It’s the people who say nothing or only in snide, hand covering their mouth ways that you really need to worry about.
Neville was also quizzed on which women’s games he’d been to prior to getting the job and who the top scorer was in the FAWSL. Clearly loaded questions where he couldn’t win. If he answered correctly, they’d say he should know them and if he struggled (he did say the name of the top-scorer but it wasn’t enough apparently), they’d have a field day. They didn’t ask Gareth Southgate in his first interview as men’s team manager if he’d watched Albania play Gilbralter recently. Or who was top scorer in the Premier League. They think they are displaying some form of equality; but it’s quite the reverse.
But this article isn’t here to apologise for Phil Neville, however badly treated I think he was, nor to say whether he was right or wrong. That’s for individuals to decide themselves, and some will think Neville is a sexist and other’s will think it’s been blown out of context. But isn’t it just so sad that we live in a world where jokes and family communication can be used like this to begin with?
The phrase ‘you can’t say anything these days’ has never been truer. Even in a democracy that practises (albeit loosely) free speech, there is always someone offended. On Sunday, I heard a man claim he was offended by Dean Saunders daring to say that lower division teams might ‘leave something on a Premier League player’ in an FA Cup tie. The man was almost in tears. It was a former-professional saying it how it was, yet the PC brigade won as Saunders (with help from Perry Groves) had to almost apologise on air and retract their words. In that case, there are a lot of Sunday League managers that are going to upset people when telling their sides that their opponents don’t ‘like it up em’.
But how far is this going to go?
At the Australian Open tennis, a player (amusingly named Tennys Sandgren) had to defend himself after following a right-wing profile on Twitter. This led to posts from 2012 resurfacing to demonstrate his racist and homophobic nature; which he denied and apologised for. Even Serena Williams jumped in, demanding an apology, but even if he did follow someone on Twitter or post something six years ago, is it right that he’s got to face questions about it now, or even at all? If everyone who has ever said something that might offend others lost their job, there would be virtually no-one in a job. Anywhere.
Yet some people are so offended; so quick to make everything an issue. Or is it just very convenient, and media savvy, to jump on any bandwagon going?
For example, when ex-England cricket captain Michael Vaughan stood up for Phil Neville, he was bombarded by hundreds of tweets, many from angry people who had no interest in Phil Neville and/or read any of the things he’d written. But he had said something that must be wrong because someone else said it was and Michael Vaughan was just as bad for defending him, they pointed out. Though if Michael Vaughan had really wanted to help, he would have been better off just putting a badly worded joke on social media because, as Tennys Sandgren discovered, the storm lasts about as long as it takes for someone else to offend the same people.
On Michael Vaughan’s post, a man (more of a sexist than Phil Neville could ever be), wrote a very unfunny and outdated post asking if ‘the goalkeepers in the women’s game were still under-10 standard’ and then kept asking (about seven times) until he finally got the message that no one found it funny and even people who were smiling at the moment they read it, had stopped immediately.
That kind of pathetic stuff usually gets the lack of exposure it deserves, but not always. There was also a text sent into a talk show that said Phil Neville was ‘woefully under-qualified’ for the role – again given oxygen and airtime by the BBC – that had to be picked up by pundits Mark Wright and Chis Sutton after it was read out unchallenged by the presenter.
Surely he (I think it was Dave or Phil) meant ‘inexperienced’, they argued, because Phil Neville might be a lot of things but under-qualified he isn’t. Unless a UEFA Pro Licence isn’t a suitable currency in the women’s game. I’m not sure Mark Sampson or Hope Powell had a better qualification when they were appointed manager, yet between them, still got the team from thirteenth to third in the world and top of the UEFA rankings, and were both seen as very positive employees by the FA.
By contrast, Neville has coached at England u-21 level, in the Premier League and La Liga. Surely that’s enough of a CV to be given the opportunity to manage the England Women’s Team? How much more experience has fellow Class of 92’ graduate, Ryan Giggs got before picking up the Welsh job? Yet I still hear people saying this is a kick in the teeth (I wonder if some people are on their hands and knees searching for molars and incisors that have come out) for the women’s game.
How so? When the FA appointed Mark Sampson to the role, they would have loved to have ex-Premier League (500+ games) star and an ex-England international (59 caps) applying for it. This has raised the profile and is a massive boost for the women’s game (still growing and played before crowds of about 1,000 people right now) that people hold it in such high regard that they want to be part of it.
Interestingly, the other people on the FA’s shortlist for the job all pulled out anyway as they didn’t fancy the media scrutiny or any skeletons finding their way out of the closet. One can only presume that they had made a few jokes on Twitter or won at table tennis too since 2011.
I have never been a big fan of Phil Neville myself to be honest, but my issue with him was always ‘that tackle’ in the 2000 Euros that got England knocked out in the group stage. Anyone daft enough to put a challenge in on the wrong side like that is daft enough to tweet a joke about beating their wife at table tennis, and not have the foresight to think they’d get the England Women Manager job nearly seven years later.
But I have more respect for him today, for fronting up to the OTT and at times embarrassing media questions and standing his ground. I’ve certainly got more respect for him that the journalist who kept raking it up, desperately trying to fill column inches and air time until the next round of the ‘is Jurgen Klopp really any good?’ debate.
Until then, I suspect the new England coach hasn’t heard the last of it quite yet.
Isn’t it a shame and a sad indictment that anyone who wants to serve this country in any kind of public role (politician, teacher, football manager etc) but has made a potentially offensive remark on social media – jokingly or otherwise – is already out of contention or facing a humiliating outing in later life. How do you teach kids that?
Because if it’s like this now, what will it be like in five, ten or twenty years from now? But I always wonder too, how many of the people hurling these stones live in a house made of glass.
Such as the BBC, that great bastion of political correctness and equality, whose Director-General is being ‘grilled’ this week by MPs (if MPs think you’re unethical, you must be in real trouble) because of a massive, cultural pay gap between genders across all levels of the organisation.
And that also gave us The Benny Hill Show.
Someone suggested on the radio this week that a good way to fill the VAR gaps at football matches would be to have a bunch of scantily-clad (copyright The Sun) women chasing a Benny Hill lookalike around the pitch. I’m sure they were only joking – but what does that matter these days?
What about Mark Sampson being chased around by girls from the Bristol Academy while the Benny Hill theme tune plays over the PA?
Too soon? Maybe. After all, VAR has only been in use for a couple of weeks.