Will The Laughable 'Banter' Defence Lead To Change?

We're all laughing at the LMA's attempt to defend Malky Mackay using the phrase 'friendly text message banter' but at least we're doing something other than ignoring the issue...

Last Updated: 22/08/14 at 09:22 Post Comment

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There is not one black manager in the top four divisions of English football despite around 30% of professional footballers being black. It is not under-representation, it is zero representation. Yet in their reprehensible statement defending Malky Mackay, the League Managers' Association have revealed an attitude that suggests imperative change is a long way from being achieved.

What must black managers - or anyone who is a victim of Mackay's alleged racism, sexism and homophobia - think of the LMA's crass and arrogant dismissal of the manager's conduct? Apparently the severity of his communication with Iain Moody is diminished because it was only a 'couple of one-line texts' during a period of time in which Mackay was 'under great pressure'. I'm not sure about you, but I know plenty of people under personal and professional strain who don't suddenly begin sharing bigoted missives.

Despite the offensive content of the messages, Mackay staggeringly required the 'the benefit of hindsight' to appreciate the error of his ways, while he was merely 'letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter'. But who was he being 'friendly' towards? Certainly not those he offended, while Moody's resignation from his role at Crystal Palace undermines the LMA's attempt to sweep the scandal under the carpet. Would he really leave his job because of 'banter'?

It was just banter. Four words frequently used to obfuscate and trivialise issues that continue to impair football's integrity. Four words to defend the indefensible, that say you just didn't 'get' it, that you don't appreciate the nuance of humour. It was Richard Keys' often-parodied defence for his despicable comments about Sian Massey, while Kenny Dalglish used the term to palliate Liverpool fans booing Patrice Evra at Anfield after the defender had accused Luis Suarez of racial abuse.

The banter excuse is employed as automatic indemnity, a defence which ignores the fact that it is supposed to be a mutual pastime involving the subject of the joke. Mackay's remarks clearly fail to meet this essential criteria. 'If Malky has caused any offence by these two isolated matters he would, however, wish to sincerely apologise,' continues the LMA statement. IF? If ever evidence were needed that football remains an old boys' club, it is provided by that shocking lack of awareness. An unwitting attitude that arguably satisfies the definition of institutional racism as determined by the Macpherson Report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The game needs to be dragged into the 21st century, with those in positions of responsibility being held accountable for their actions. Regrettably, the chances of that happening appear slim, with the FA facing a difficult decision over the allegations concerning Mackay and Moody after taking no action against Richard Scudamore following the publication of his sexist emails. 'The FA does not as a matter of policy consider private communications sent with a legitimate expectation of privacy to amount to professional misconduct,' was the party line as Greg Dyke and his colleagues breathed a sigh of relief at passing the buck.

The problem with this laissez-faire attitude is that it allows abuse to spread. One of the worst aspects of the cases mentioned in this article is the demonisation of the victims, with Liverpool cultivating the perception that Evra was not a credible witness in the Suarez hearing and that the defender liked to play the race card, an idea that was seized upon by some sections of the club's support.

After Evra was booed in the subsequent FA Cup tie at Anfield, the extent of the damage was revealed. "Why would I be disappointed for Evra? I've been booed," said Dalglish. "The fans are entitled to support their team. I've got no problem with that and if there's a bit of banter between the teams, that's brilliant. I don't think there was anything untoward." Little did he know that one Liverpool fan had been filmed making monkey gestures towards Evra and was later found guilty of racial abuse.

Discrimination exists in football because it remains prevalent in society, but the game is complicit in these ills by failing to address the cyclical nature of abuse. Allowing offenders to escape appropriate punishment encourages copycat crimes among supporters. In any other job, John Terry would have been suspended pending investigation of his alleged comments to Anton Ferdinand. Instead, Chelsea and, even more deplorably, England, stood by their man for the sake of winning a few football matches. During the same period, Chelsea fans chanted "you know what you are" to Anton and Rio Ferdinand in reference to Terry's "f**king black c**t" remark, while England's travelling support in San Marino sang about burning the brothers on a bonfire.

The easiest way to deal with such sickening behaviour is to ignore it, which is part of the reasoning behind the LMA's defence of Mackay. Which is the more straightforward: choosing a policy of self-preservation in which Mackay's comments are passed off as 'banter', or having to face the fact that there are serious problems in football when it comes to discrimination? Nobody wants to be a whistleblower when getting ahead in the game depends on appeasing those around you.

The only hope is that pressure from supporters, sponsors and elsewhere will force those who run the game to acknowledge widespread and deep-seated moral corruption. It is a good thing that people are mocking the LMA, and that the FA's rank hypocrisy continues to be exposed, because it demands a new course of action. Perhaps in this instance, the banter defence has finally served a useful purpose. It was one excuse too far, which the LMA will not ultimately be allowed to laugh off.

Matthew Stanger - follow him on Twitter

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