Reflections on the John Terry Trial

Much has been written about the detail of this case and in my view, I cannot think of a context where the use of language “f..b..c..” is acceptable.

As I write this I stop myself typing out the full words and I ask myself why. I realise that I have now read the words  “f..b..c..” repeatedly on the internet and in every newspaper for the last week. My fear is that through repetition they lose their charge, they become banal and acceptable in everyday discourse. Could this vile phrase one day find its way into the Oxford English Dictionary?

This is terrifying and is a clear example of the importance of language in the way we think about and frame our ideas about the world. Natasha Henry says it cogently in today’s Observer “How can I explain to my 10 year old cousin that racially charged language is not OK, when now perhaps it is?”

My hair starts to stand on end when I then hear about the use of the “” phrase in reference to Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand’s apparent support for it. The idea that Cole is somehow a “sell out”. A sell out to who and what I ask myself?

This tawdry incident is an example of how anger spins out of control.  It started as a “playground” spat on the football field with Anton Ferdinand raising the stakes and making it personal by referring to Terry’s alleged “affair”.  Terry fired back and duly lost the captaincy, Capello resigned, Rio was left out of the squad, the “sarcasm” defence stood up in court and now we experience the reverse “intolerance” focused on Ashley Cole.

Sadly this incident shows how a small amount of anger can fuel the fire and trigger deeply held but well – hidden attitudes and beliefs.  It illustrates how a person’s race ( or sexuality for that matter) is still the currency of abuse for a whole generation of young men. Such behaviour must speak about something missing, a hollowness in the very soul of one who needs a stereotype to rage against in order to feel powerful.

I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s statement: “I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man. Racism is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods”

This could have been nipped in the bud if Terry and Ferdinand had been better in charge of their actions. There are simple ways to catch your angry behaviour and to control angry thoughts.

Like it or not these relatively young men are role models for a generation. Along with the high rewards is – like it or not – the responsibility to stick strictly to a behaviour code which includes managing their anger both on and off the football field. Otherwise Terry’s acquittal becomes an open invitation to footballers of all ages for whom sarcasm and put-downs can be a way of life, a way of avoiding genuine emotional contact with other human beings.

Given how this incident has grown out of all proportion and become so bitterly personal, urgent action is needed.  Otherwise the message that it’s fine to express anger through the prism of racial intolerance will gain credence as the phrase “f..b..c..” enters daily use. This already seems to be the case in the world of football.

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