Xenophobia, racism, insults and Twitter

We all heard or read about it. Suarez abused Evra calling him a “negrito”, “little black”. Terry did the same to Anton Ferdinand with the delightful expression “back cunt”. Then, Ferdinand’s older brother, Rio, called Ashley Cole “choc-ice” which, I came the discover through all this incessant stream of tirades, means he is black on the outside and white on the inside. And now a player from the Swiss Olympic football team was sent packing after going on a rampage against South Koreans calling them “mentally retarded”.

The thing that initially comes to mind, more than any punishment of the players, is why do we bother? Why is it that we feel that sport (particularly football) should be so sanitized as to punish anyone who says (or writes) what he is thinking about? The question should answer itself, one might say, but I do not really see it like that. Let us look at the situation in two different ways. In one, we can talk about freedom of speech. In the other we can look at double standards.

The obvious question one could ask is: where is the freedom of speech? Britain and most western countries consacrate freedom of speech as one of the cornerstones of their societies. This means that one is allowed to be an idiot and say stupid things. Certainly there are limits to this. One refers to defamation. If I were to affirm that person so and so is corrupt, I would be making an accusation that I should be prepared to back up. On the other hand, were I to do it instead of, say, Sir Alex Ferguson, and there is a good chance I would be totally ignored as a village fool. And rightly so. Then, why is it that we cannot leave these kind of rants alone and let them die as the idiocy they are fully deserve? Truth is, most people who launch themselves in such verbal attacks are usually venting off and will be absolutely harmless. Morganella’s words were certainly offensive, but did anyone think he was going to follow up on the threat? Or was anyone convinced south koreans are mentally handicaped because of his tweet? Certainly not. These were stupid comments and the only reason anyone outside the followers of the swiss ever heard of them was his expulsion from his team. Sometimes, stamping such attitudes is counter-productive. Freedom of speech exists to allow people to say stupid things, not necessarily to say intelligent ones. it is very much an escape valve. It should not be closed.

Of course, one can argue that a sport must protect its image, but then we enter the territory of double standards. Take Terry’s words. He called Anton Ferdinand a black cunt. Note that he used two potential insults: “black” and “cunt”. i don’t know about you, but I would certainly be more annoyed with the “cunt” than with the “black” (even if I am white… well, whitish). Still, this was the part that did not seem to affect Ferdinand, who heard it on the pitch and shook it off with Terry after the match. It seems it is a common part of the things those delightful characters say to each other, so it must be fine. The black part, however, well, that is another story. You see, Ferdinand is black, so it seems he could not be called that. What would happen if he had been called a “white cunt”? Or a blue one? Or a pink cunt with yellow dots? Would any of those be offensive? And what if Ferdinand had called Terry a white cunt or a black cunt? Would that be racial slur? Truth is, people see racial slur in these sentences because they so wish. Had Ferdinand simply ignored it, it would have been dismissed as the attempt to annoy him that it was. After all, if someone calls me an Einstein I may decide to take offense, even if it is meant as a compliment.
What does the double standard part have to do with this? Well, for one, the FA condemns the “black” but not the “cunt”. It means that it is perfectly at ease with insults, just not all of them. For another, whilst it is attacking (rather stupidly) the racial slurs, it is allowing a whole range of invectives involving sexual preferences. I simply find it easy to imagine one player trying to insult (note I write “trying”) another calling him a “homo”, “gay” or any other synonym that may be insulting. I can also easily imagine Terry being prosecuted for the word “black” alone, if the insult had been “black homo”. If this is not double standards, what is?

Of course, the players and the people in charge of the FA (and other organisations) could simply take the situation described in the image at the top of the post. If you are black, why bother about being called as such? If you are not, what is wrong in being called as such? If someone thinks that such words are offensive, it is their problem, not of the person being supposedly insulted. In the position of Ferdinand, Evra or other black players, instead of being insulted for being called something they are (by people who are not even racist), I would more likely fear being called “a disgrace” by the manager. That is the opinion that should count. The rest is nothing more than frustrated slur.