Following England's qualification for the World Cup the media was full of the expected speculation about whether the team is good enough to make a mark in Brazil. But the story that lingered in the days after was about Roy Hodgson's half time 'joke'. How the story emerged is perhaps the most important question to ask - but in the over PC environment of 2013, that question was ignored and Hogdson was in the firing line.
Thankfully the FA acted relatively quickly and Greg Dyke's clear endorsement of Hodgson meant the story was shutdown. Well sort of. Still on Friday, Andros Townsend was being asked about it - clearly saying no offence was taken and that the idea behind the joke was actually a compliment. But this is a typical example of the type of over reaction to comments that we are increasingly seeing. Recently we had the ridiculous situation of Robbie Fowler having to apologise for his 'fighting like girls' comment on Match of the Day.
Just a week after Fowler's comment - I heard a female panel member say the same thing on Radio 5 Live's Fighting Talk. So is it okay for a woman to say it but not a man? The same week Harry Redknapp was quoted in The Times talking about how he had seen public school kids playing football and that he could not tell whether they were boys or girls because they were so bad'. To me, the Redknapp comment is actually far worse. Yet it was a quote from an interview that The Time felt it was OK to publish.
Redknapp's comment underlines his ignorance, while Fowler's was the use of an expression that many people use without any agenda. The difference might be that Redknapp is a media darling while Fowler less so. What Fowler and Hodgson's apologies show though is just how delicate people can be. But this over-sensitivity can do more harm than good. In the end you sanitize people to the extent that they up being like Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson - and saying nothing at all.
In Hodgson's case the use of the word 'monkey' was perhaps ill-advised but for Kick It Out to start making noises about the comments only drew attention to it. I would imagine the England manager was mortified to hear some of the criticism. The argument is often that if someone is offended - then the remark must have been offensive. That is a ridiculous stand point and completely unworkable and unrealistic.
When Alan Hansen said 'coloured' instead of black on Match of the Day last year, he was criticised rather than vilified. It was a poor mistake to make for someone well educated but easily done, when moods and attitudes change to certain words. I still find it hard to use the word black directly to someone of colour - because when I was at school you were told to say coloured not black. That does not make me a racist - in the same way it did not make Hansen a racist.
Controversially it is my view that everyone has some prejudice - whether sexist or racist - but the way to deal with that is being more open and not suppressing debate. Encourage discussion and people become better informed and respect each other more. However the Fowler and Hodgson stories do not encourage debate - they suppress it, by being over sensitive and leave people confused about what they can and cannot say.