Days rarely pass without the UK's journalist football fraternity finding a corpse of a story that they frantically seek to re-electrify with controversy, and this week is no exception. Roy Hodgson has had his name carelessly smeared by suggestions of racial insensitivity. The Mail deployed their famous delicate touch and described Hodgon's half-time "space monkey" joke as a racial "jibe" no less. Only later did they shift and describe it with jaunty prose as a, "gaffe". The inconvenient truth was it was neither, unless you are deceitful, stupid, or both. This is Hodgson's treatment despite only days ago leading a spoilt brat of a nation to the world cup finals as it ritually demands. After all, as ITV helpfully pointed out to Hodgson obnoxiously in a pre match interview, "the nation expects".
The fight for equality in football stadiums is a peculiar cocktail. From one side cry denialists who insist there is no problem to be tackled. I find this view fascinating personally. Only a few weeks ago at Loftus Road I heard an imaginative array of homophobia's greatest hits directed at Brighton fans. Not racist you may point out, but this was soon surpassed in shamefulness by a twisted common ground found between the opposing supporters as they chanted in unison damning Tottenham's "yids" in one of the sicker olive branch moments in the history of world peace. Meanwhile twenty or more stewards stood lifelessly in a stadium corner, clearly aware, but either through indifference or feigning ignorance, took no action.
Then from another side come the bourgeois defenders of the working classes. They resent football's supposedly new crop of overly paid PC crusaders who are subjecting the man on the street to the apparently alien idea of social decency. To do so is apparently patronising and anachronistic to a unique football environment unintelligible to meddling outsiders, a moral wild west existing in suspended animation that we should turn a blind eye to. This is an example of an often corrosive romanticism in football; the idea that an increasingly marginalised working class base should be sheltered from the grand ideals of social equality. It is supposedly preached, after all, by an uppity and out of touch intelligentsia. This is a mistaken view. It belittles a very real problem and neglects that most football fans, irrespective of their class, are disgusted at such displays of intolerance and discrimination. On the contrary, there is no more demeaning an idea, nothing more patronising, than to suggest working class people are incapable of respecting basic human decency. Or that they should be pardoned and permitted to 'let off steam' like tribalistic barbarians sheltered from judgement in the sanctuary of a 'what happens in the football stadium, stays in the football stadium' culture.
To seek to immunise football from social responsibility and belittle its importance on such specious apologetics is unacceptable. However, it is equally wrong for those in senior positions responsible for ensuring that discrimination and prejudice is jettisoned from the game, to make rash, ill considered damnations that subject individuals to the supreme libel of being called a racist. The consequence of doing so, much like hanging an innocent man in seeking to deter crime, is to make a mockery of the very cause you defend and to throw a steak to hungry sceptics already baying to undermine what is a noble endeavour.
Enter UEFA's Executive Director of Football Against Racism, Piara Powar, who has waded in gun ho on a Joseph McCarthy style crusade. Powar claimed Roy Hodgson had:
"used (a) very silly term within a diverse team environment. He should know better".
So what was Hodgson's crime? In order to illustrate to defender Chris Smalling his desire for him to play the ball up field more frequently to the dangerous Andrios Townsend, he told a joke about a monkey in space who is serviced by an astronaut. Similarly Hodgson wished Smalling to provide service to Townsend. According to Powar, because the players in question are mixed race, the association of them to a monkey is deemed unacceptable. Of course, 'common sense' dictates to most white folk that the use of monkey references around black people, however innocently, is a minefield. Yet as Stan Collymore retweeted:
'A racist, example of: someone who thinks that the word 'monkey' automatically refers to a non-white person. To be pitied, not hated."
"Q I should ask with African blood is why the fuck should I take as read connection between monkey and being black? And whoever player is!"
The racist pioneers of the monkey jibe were probably too ignorant to appreciate that pesky evolution meant that the human race in its entirety, whether black or white, derives from monkey ancestry. After all, objectively speaking, why does a joke relayed to black players referring to a monkey automatically become inappropriate or offensive? This is based on the false premise that because repugnant racists historically associated black citizens with a primitive species to demean them, that now any reference to a monkey in their presence today is also offensive and meant with similar insensitivity. This flawed assumption only serves to keep the slur alive, giving credence to an appallingly inane idea. It is the equivalent of suggesting that by a white person asking black friends round to watch 'The Rise of the Planet of the Apes' on Blue Ray to demonstrate the power of their new HD TV constitutes racism.
Those who know Roy Hodgson see a man who exudes decency and cultural awareness, not a reckless racist. Yet there is a temptation in an age of rapid news for officials to simply make statements to instantaneously appease an inquisitive population and to demonstrate attentiveness and competence. However, those occupying positions of moral leadership have a duty to take time and assess situations coolly and contextually before wading in like anti racist saviours with a one size fits all condemnation. Mistakes like this grant new ammunition to anti PC mobs by presenting those campaigning for a very pertinent cause seem petty. As much as it pains me to say it, this is a very real case of 'political correctness gone mad' and Piara Powar should check himself before he wrecks his own campaign.
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