January 31, 2011

Vive la Différence

I grew up watching Andy Gray play football, and distinctly remember his big-hair-phase photo from the ’81 Panini album. Then he went into the ‘boot room’ at Sky Sports, and made a respectable career for himself. I actually liked him.


I also grew up watching Ron Atkinson haul his heavy weight along the gantry walkways at Derby County to take up his commentary position on the match days that were televised. Ron was an early hero of mine at Manchester United – I still have the ’85 Cup Final programme that symbolises what was perhaps his finest hour. I actually quite liked him too.


Gray and Atkinson worked together rather well at Aston Villa, Gray being coach under Atkinson’s management tenure. They produced attractive football. There was a lot to like about it.

What else to Gray and Atkinson have in common? Well, Atkinson’s post-football media career went up in smoke in 2004 when he disclosed his racist streak on air, not realising his microphone was switched on. I won’t repeat what he said – it’s easy enough to find – but he was rightly banished to obscurity for the ridiculousness of his insult. Gray, just last week, was fired from Sky for a combination of comments of a retrograde and unwarranted sexist nature, also recorded when he thought his microphone was switched off. Again, no need to report what was said, but only to point out that the female referee’s assistant to whom the jibes were directed got the big decisions right on game night and made the chauvinists look like complete idiots.

It’s all very bad for the game and makes one wonder whether anything has really changed out there. In general, the FA has done a good and high-profile job of kicking racism out of football, and so far as I can tell it has been making a real effort to do the same for chauvinism of late. Things like this really taint that effort, and it’s such a shame. I have a feeling that for Gray, much like for Atkinson, the comments made were an expression of what it means to ‘be a man’; I would style it, ‘being a macho idiot’. If there is anything this blog does consistently it is to call out the disjuncture between manliness and being a moron; the distance between the finer points of the masculine disposition and the knuckle-headed attitudes of those who would wield clubs and grunt. Gray and Atkinson got what they deserved. If our heroes are revealed to be so deeply flawed we should not be disappointed, but grateful for the insight.

For my part, it’s just another nail in the coffin wherein I have lain football. May it find some peace.

15 comments:

  1. Doctor, why should not men be allowed their prejudices and dislikes? If they disagree with the standards of propriety you fancy, you apparently approve of their being forced out - for dissent. I suppose their kind should not be allowed to ruin your kind enjoying your own prejudices in public... I further suppose it is an act of great courage to be part of the majority, especially when enforcement is on your side... Good on you for taking the difficult path.

    But really - these men voiced their opinions, they thought, in private. They are ridiculous in that it was made private, but they are neither evil nor reproachable really. I am glad the woman referee got the calls right; but that doesn't mean she should be making them in the first place. Whichever side you take in the disagreement, destroying your opposition is morally contemptible. Only the weaklings approve when men are destroyed for political incorrectness. Only Nazi block-watchers encourage such outings... I trust you meant something entirely different and I am curious as to what-

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  2. Men are entitled to their prejudices. I did not say otherwise. However, being entitled to prejudices does not make the specific comments in question factually correct. In their factual incorrectness they were offensive, not because they were merely politically incorrect, but because they were actually wrong. Let us preserve that distinction. Since the comments were broadcast from positions of responsibility – influence even – it is right that someone intervened, lest people got it into their heads that if such things can be said without censure they must be right. I entirely disagree with you that I take a majority position in this. If it has that appearance it is only because people before me have indeed been courageous in the face of severe and unjustified hostility, violence and intimidation. Should we now complacently brush away this kind of thing as merely men being men, we shall lose much more than we shall gain for our abdication of vigilance.

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  3. "manliness and being a moron" Brilliant! I hope I find a chance to interject it in a conversation soon. Remember the Barbarians really are at the gate, so please continue your watch.

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  4. no need to report what was said, but only to point out that the female referee’s assistant to whom the jibes were directed got the big decisions right on game night and made the chauvinists look like complete idiots.

    I rather hate the way that this has been at the front of rebuttals to his accidentally-public opinions. He wasn't speaking about her personal ability, he was speaking about the abstract ability of her gender - and the fact that she "proved him wrong" relegates her simple ability to do her job to a petty 'so there!' at an unpleasant man who apparently routinely attempted to humiliate and dominate female co-workers in the name of having a laugh. That's not what her professional life is about.

    It doesn't matter that she was right, because he wasn't speaking about her as a referee. He was speaking about her as a woman, and for goodness sake I know the offside rule and I've never watched a full game of football.

    He shouldn't have been fired because he was wrong about a ref's decision. He should have been, and was, fired because his behaviour based on purposefully-held opinions was maggoty

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  5. Well, quite. It did help that she was good, though, for publicity's sake. It made his wrongness all the more stark. That's all I meant.

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  6. In the long run, it may be quite a turning point as I read the number of applications for referee training by women has increased dramatically since this occurred.

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  7. Doctor, you do not fire a man for being factually incorrect. Who ever gets everything right? At least so as to not give satisfaction to the kinds of people who clamor for a head to roll, if for no other reason-

    It seems to me more polite to say, as you dismissively say, that men are men, than to go up in arms over the morality of prejudice. And it plainly is the majority opinion, certainly the opinion of the opinionated classes. Or have you heard such defense of this man that you feel the need to speak against the clangor of morons?

    Apparently, if a mistakenly hot mic transmits an opinion, this means the opinion must be censured - for it is of the censurable kind: among the right kind of people, it really is screaming for it. Just so.

    I do not know, doctor, whether you realize that this divides countries against themselves and has no way to unite them. Tell me, how has it become unacceptable to hold prejudices? Does it not occur to you that the day may come when prejudices you may favor or the which at least are popular among your class will come under similar scrutiny?

    A sports commentator is such an influence on society that he must be checked lest heedless harm come flooding through? Doctor, I should like to hear you argue plainly in favor of censorship and state your grounds. What are those things which cannot be said, lest the man saying them be fired - and how anyone proposes to retain some semblance of honor in the process.

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  8. There are many lines of work where a man will be fired for being wrong, where his wrongness has consequences that go way beyond his own small world. I work in such a world, for one. When a man holds a prejudice deeply, but where that prejudice has no ill-effect on anyone else, then he may have it, and nobody can do a thing about it, however irrational or unjust. I never said otherwise, and now I have said as much twice. But when the prejudice he holds affects the work that he does in the name of profession, and when the profession is incompatible with the prejudice, then something must give. Judging by this particular man’s post-facto contrition, I should say that he knew his attitudes were liable to cause offence, to cause trouble, and yet he continued so long as he thought he could ‘just be a man’, or rather, ‘one of the boys’ in his professional capacity and get away with it. That was naïve. His terms of employment no doubt stated the contrary quite explicitly. In public life we are to be held to standards, for with publicity comes responsibility. Sad though it may seem, sports commentators – and indeed the people who comprise the world they comment upon – are among the most prominent influences of public opinion. They are leaders, for better or for worse. I would rather it was for the better.

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  9. Doctor, I am surprised to see you emerge as a champion of firing whoever got one wrong. In my humble experience, people make mistakes constantly without being fired. Was the mistake here the prejudice or the hot mic? This man was fired for political reasons, of a kind. He said things one ought not to say in public, certainly if one does not want to run afoul of the new morality. No contract can make this right. The comments were tasteless - his employer had a right to an apology for the mishap - public did too. But it was not sexism or chauvinism - it was private.

    The moralists of sexism are contemptible creatures - whose happiness do they further by evicting sexism from football? - Saving souls with every scandal, I assume... - It were flattery to call crusades the self-flattery of these unimportant people who think themselves moral for screaming bloody murder over anything except bloody murder. Who takes affront at those comments? Of the things that might cause indignation, this has got to be nearly the least credible excuse. Neither public mores nor politeness require the removal of prejudices or the enlightenment of men. They do imply such attempts are impossible and require passing over slips. To my mind, politeness comes with an abhorrence of these new classes of moralists. What this man unwittingly did is just ridiculous, a case of making public what is private. To make this a moral matter is to brand him: he is but a private nobody. This man a leader of opinion? You kid - surely, you're very cleverly mocking all indignation in suggesting such men as accuse and such men as are now accused are really of any importance.

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  10. A man at work in his profession is at work and in public, hot mic or no. He did not get 'one' wrong, but was rather habitually so by all accounts. At work. To his female colleagues. He broke not just his contract, but probably the law relating to sexual harassment.

    I wonder, when your humble experience has ten more years under it, if you will be able to maintain your view that such things do (should?) happen constantly without check.

    Whose happiness do the 'moralists of sexism' further? That it does not further yours is self-evident, but the answer to me is obvious. It Turling's comment is accurate, I should say that at the very least that it furthers the happiness of those who would otherwise be denied opportunities to which they are perfectly entitled. And that also makes me happy.

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  11. Sorry if I cut you, VB - it was the straw on my camel-back. I did click 'submit' a little before I meant to, which muddied my tone a smidge.

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  12. I'm quite thick-skinned my dear. Do not give it another thought.

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  13. Doctor, I dislike feminists more than macho men. The latter make no theoretical claims - the former do. A macho man might despise women for being weaker, but is he not partly right? Whereas the feminist likelier than not will psychoanalyze me, which is impolite, to say the least. I see the purpose macho men serve in this world and am reconciled to their existence; it is not so with feminists. It might be that a decade from now, God willing, we will again cross swords, as it were, on this subject - at the very least, I do not expect the matter to be solved or the sides to change. If anything, I expect the conflict to grow into hate, which is regrettable but unavoidable. I hope macho men are not what you seem to think they are - for those creatures, if you think about it, are very passionate and much harsher than whoever would oppose them. My feeling is the day will come when you will need them...

    But let us turn to happier thoughts: please let me know, if you think it proper, in what way - even vicariously - your happiness is furthered, for you must expect the subject to be of some - polite - interest to me-

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  14. A macho man might despise women for being weaker, but he will only be right some of the time, and usually only in a physical sense. Even then it will not be universally so. However in an intellectual sense he would most often be wrong in fact, and always in principle. I’m not sure feminists would give themselves enough time in your company to set about psychoanalysis, even if that were their general inclination (which it is not, to my knowledge).

    My happiness is, in this case, connected to the knowledge of people doing that for which they feel they are best fitted, without let or hindrance, for the common good. It is, to my mind, unjust to keep someone from being the best that they can be, on the grounds of prejudice alone. I have had cause to reflect on my own life in this regard – about that to which I wish to apply myself, and about the prevailing attitudes that stand in my way – and I see analogies to what feminists have defined as their struggle. I will probably say no more of it here, for insofar as it is public I shall keep my part of it private.

    I do not expect conflict to grow into hate. I decided many years ago that hate was entirely avoidable on a personal level. I would rather reason until I run out of fuel.

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  15. Doctor, what a phrase you turn: hate is entirely avoidable on a personal level. What a decision to make! Have you managed to save humanity from hatred? Or how do you mean? But perhaps you mean you yourself are never hateful - at least not on a personal level. Surely, you hate this or that, but not people. It is no small feat, nevertheless. And it is always useful to see the superior boast, so that the inferior can clearly identify them...

    You reason about justice - and are apparently willing to do it until you run out of fuel. I am sure you never do, in fact, that you can reason it out with the best of the philosophers. It is certainly a worthwhile thing: who does not wish to know what justice is? And how very few really do know. Again, it is good that the superior boast, particularly in such cases - how else would everyone else know to whom to turn?

    As you come to light as the spitting image of Socrates - only handsomer and much more stylish, for the look of the thing... - I am pleased to remind you that even a liberal regime might summon the realization that you are the spitting images of Socrates. - Of course, you may counter, liberal regimes take absolutely nothing seriously and hold it a thing of pride when the nation is being divided against itself and rendered helpless and confused by clever speakers - why, you may imagine a liberal regime is so stupid as to lose the secret to the atom bomb or God only knows what else - in fact, you may imagine even that nobody will pay hell for idealism and that what sounds like a good idea is the firm basis for upturning the way of things. - And I really wonder what I would answer to such a brilliant counter. I am almost left speechless.

    For, do you see, I am myself baffled at the raging of hatred and popular hysteria over this or that object - how the passions swell, how the wars start, how generations seem ruled by one governing principle or object. Men divided against one another, some off to war, others left home professing to wish them dead and their enemies victorious - old men fearing what will come of all that they fought for, suddenly aware of themselves as undeluded about the transcience of all good things... When confronted with the peaceful serenity of the world you inhabit, so rife with solutions one wonders whether there be problems at all, so much pursuing - moral - progress, that I can but wish - being of that turn of mind - that you find it, I am of a sudden forced to smile on one side.

    So I turn then to your happiness, a source of stability itself, insightfully planted firmly in that most solid ground, just fit for upturning. I wonder, being devoid of hate as you are, whether you appreciate the role it plays. - I wonder, when you hold to the principle of justice, whether you know whom you are judging, however abstractly. - I wonder, how is your happiness so dependent on what other people do and have done to them - and perfectly abstract other people at that? - Of course, I would never tell you that your quandaries are similar to feminism, but since you bring it up, it may be amusing to carry on with the thought...

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