Okay, hard hat and flak jacket on, here goes. It’s time someone had the guts to stand up and defend the right of Malky Mackay and Iain Moody to engage in puerile banter. As the Fourth Estate seems to be inhabited by shrill, intolerant, language cops, that unenviable task falls to me.
The shitstorm over the exchange of inappropriate text messages has cost Iain Moody his job and quite possibly destroyed Malky Mackay’s managerial career. Serves them right, you might say. There’s no place in the game for men in positions of authority who think it’s clever to make jokes about Jews and south-east Asians - not to mention gay snakes and bouncing on ‘falsies’. I’ve no wish to defend the sentiments expressed in those text messages. They were clearly puerile and offensive. But here’s the thing: they were made in private. They weren’t careless remarks overheard on the training ground or in the dressing room. They were private text messages. And if you can lose your job – or even your career – for making inappropriate remarks in private, then our society really is going to hell in a handcart.
A free, liberal-minded press, you’d have thought, would respond robustly to what Mick Hume described on spiked as the ‘legalised hacking’ of Iain Moody’s mobile phone. Yet the media have been shamefully silent on this chilling violation of privacy, preferring instead to embark on yet another bout of football-bashing. Journalists were more agitated by what the Guardian’s David Conn described as a ‘dark-age set of attitudes’ within football. The Telegraph’s Jason Burt wrote that the dossier submitted by Cardiff City to the Football Association lifted the lid on ‘a distasteful sub-culture of bigotry and insularity’. Naturally, the professional offence-seekers at Kick It Out also waded in. ‘These revelations are further confirmation of how football is tainted with racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism… [a] culture which continues to exist throughout the game and in society as a whole’, said Kick it Out chairman Lord Ouseley.
When the League Managers’ Association (LMA) issued a fairly mealy-mouthed defence of one of its members – Mackay – it, too, came under fire. Why? Because in trying to apologise on Mackay’s behalf, it suggested that Mackay had simply been ‘letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text-message banter’. It’s the phrase ‘banter’ that has particularly incurred the ire of bien pensant inquisitors. ‘Fucking disgraceful’, tweeted TalkSport presenter Stan Collymore. This was ‘institutional acceptance of the “banter” of casual racism’, he said.
The word ‘banter’ has become a dirty word to anti-racists. It is seen as an attempt to trivialise bigoted small talk, which, naturally, anti-racists want rooted out. As David Conn put it: ‘That enjoyable word, denoting good times among mates, is a new catch-all excuse for nastiness, containing within it the implication that those campaigning against prejudice lack a sense of humour.’ So cowed was the LMA by the febrile reaction it provoked that, within 24 hours, it had apologised for its apology. ‘It is beyond argument that any comments that are discriminatory, even used in private, are totally unacceptable’, it said in a revised statement. Never mind institutional racism, this is just institutional cowardice on the part of a representative body whose stated aim is to ‘protect the rights and privileges of its members’. With unions like this, who needs the thought police?