John Terry's asterisks put FA in a bind

By Paul Gardner

John Terry, who has captained England in the past, has now been found not guilty of racially abusing the Queens Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand. Found not guilty, it needs stressing, by a court of criminal law ... by the full majesty of the English legal system, if you like.

Which, barring an appeal, ought to close that case, right? But who would lodge an appeal anyway? It was not Ferdinand who brought the case. That followed the action of a policeman who overheard a crude swear-word-laden exchange between the two players at a game between Chelsea and QPR.

The trial judge insisted that all the naughty words be uttered in court. It wasn’t pretty, but it did give an accurate, warts-and-all -- in fact, it seemed to be only warts -- picture of the on-field atmosphere of English soccer.

As such, it presented something of a problem for the English newspapers. One or two printed the words in full, taking the adult view that these words are in common enough everyday use and its readers would therefore not be shocked. But most papers used asterisks to disguise the words -- meaning their reports were bristling with stars.

Those asterisks now represent a problem for the English Football Association. The FA had started its own inquiry into the incident, but this was dropped, or temporarily shelved, while the legal case went ahead.

(Somehow or other, that case managed to get itself put off until after the Euro 2012 championships -- in which Terry featured as a member of the English squad. The postponement was strange. Even more suspicious was the omission from the squad of Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, who had been widely expected to be Terry’s partner at the heart of the England defense.)

The FA is now coming under pressure to re-open its own inquiry -- with suggestions that it should punish Terry for the very thing that the court has found him not guilty: Racial abuse. The reasoning is that an FA panel would require a lesser level of proof than that required in a criminal court.

Well, that’s certainly true. It is only some six months ago that a Regulatory Commission set up by the FA reported in offensively self-satisfied tones its condemnation of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez to an eight-game suspension for “racial abuse” of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. The evidence presented to this FA commission would surely not have stood up in a criminal law court. But under the “balance of probability” standard required in a civil court, it was considered valid enough to convict Suarez.

Having heavily punished Suarez, how can the FA now not do the same with Terry? The FA has set its own standards of heavy punishment in a case where the evidence was hardly cut and dried.

But the Suarez case presented the FA with a perfect sacrificial offering, a foreign player who could be portrayed as not used to the supposedly high standards of comportment on English soccer fields. Reading the commission’s report on that case is an uncomfortable experience, as it introduces moralizing arguments that ought to have no place in deciding on the factual truth of the case. But the FA was obviously more determined to proclaim to the world its purity on racial matters than on observing any legal niceties. Disappointingly, the supposedly independent commission adopted the same attitude.

In the Terry case, the FA has a tricky decision to make. It can simply drop its own inquiry -- though this would be seen as a cop out to those who feel, strongly, that Terry deserves to be punished for his comments. Or the FA can re-open its inquiry, in which case it is surely obliged to push it with the same vigor -- not to mention self-righteousness -- that it pursued Suarez. Not easy in the face of the “not-guilty” verdict given to Terry by the court, which ought to mean that the “racial abuse” angle is closed. Anyway, I have major doubts that the FA would treat a former captain of its national team in that way.

That still leaves all those pesky asterisks. I don’t see how the FA can ignore them. They don’t exactly convey the image of English soccer as a rose-garden. That ought not to matter, really -- no one, surely, is saying that the players shouldn’t swear at each other? Don’t be too sure. In its tedious, holier-than-thou, submission to its own panel in the Suarez case, the FA solemnly intoned that “ ... the conduct of Mr Suarez has damaged the image of English football around the world ...” The panel itself piled further responsibility on Suarez by defining his actions as “... wrong because footballers, such as Mr Suarez, are looked up to and admired by a great many football fans, especially young fans.”

One is entitled to wonder what the FA thinks all those asterisks have done for this vaunted worldwide “image of English football.” And what will the FA have to say about the effects on young fans of the gutter language used by John Terry?

6 comments about "John Terry's asterisks put FA in a bind".
  1. John Soares, July 17, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.

    Crude, rude even obnoxious does not always equal racist. Terry is not a "nice" person. That much has been demonstrated repeatedly. However it's innocent until proven guilty. The verdict is in, move on. It was always problematic that a third person heard Terry go on a rant and decided it was racism even though Anton did not raise the issue. None of this excuses past or future incidents. Nor does it justify Terry's outburst. His reputation has suffered, rightly so.

  2. Mike Crump, July 17, 2012 at 6:16 p.m.

    I would trust that the FA will muck this up. While not defending what John Terry said it's not atypical. Drop the word bla** and this would have been a normal exchange. Put a mic on the center referee and a few others and the game really will be brought into disrepute. Profanity and offensive language is present in all leagues and sports and well lower than high school age players. Is it abusive? Does it bother you? Does it bother me? Kind of, but I'm not going to pass judgement on the unfortunate player who gets his words aired publicly. Is passing the boundary using something that is based on race, color, creed, or sexuality the line that shouldn't be crossed? I think so. Innocent is the verdict, move on. I fully suspect the FA won't but in this age where everyone judges the actions of others with a level of criteria that they don't even apply to themselves it is to be expected.

  3. Ramon Creager, July 18, 2012 at 10:13 a.m.

    I'm shocked, shocked! that there is swearing and abusive language used on the field. But fellows, that's not the issue here at all. Nor is it Terry's reputation, or even racism. The problem is that the FA, in order to burnish their brand, have painted themselves into a corner. They took Suarez and made an example out of him, hiding their true intent (the commercial enhancement of their product) with some pretty vile hypocrisy. It was easy. He's a bloody foreigner, a non-European one at that. Now the EPL is safe for moms and kids everywhere! Yay! But along comes Terry, a white Englishman, ex-captain of the Three Lions, and he outdoes Suarez. Now what? The FA is in a big bind: either they overlook Terry, hiding behind the criminal court's acquittal (Suarez's actions never even warranted a criminal trial), and expose their blatant hypocrisy, doing themselves great harm; or they follow suit and punish Terry consistent with what they did to Suarez, also doing themselves great harm. That's the problem. Hypocrisy never ends well; it always diminishes those who engage in it, in this case doing far more damage to the reputation of the game, the FA, and the EPL than Suarez ever did or could.

  4. Ramon Creager, July 18, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.

    I should point out that my earlier post is in agreement with Mr. Gardner. Also, on another note, I don't understand what the media hopes to accomplish with all those asterisks. I would have never known what Terry had said or done if all I had to go on was ESPN or much of the English press. I finally found out by going to El Pais (Spanish daily) who laid out what Terry had said, both in a Spanish translation and--importantly--the original English. I say "importantly" because one of the charges against Suarez appeared to be his use of the "N" word directed at Evra. But he was speaking Spanish, and what he said may sound to the uncultured English ear as the "N" word, to a Spanish speaker it is not. By protecting the sensibilities of their readers the media contribute to misunderstanding and confusion, doing exactly the opposite of their core function, which is to inform and clarify.

  5. Bill Anderson, July 18, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.

    Ramon, very fine insight into the FA and the Suarez vs Terry debacle. When the FA conducted the witch hunt against Suarez they certainly didn't leave themselves much room to negotiate future obstacles. The world of professional sports is not populated with Rhodes Scholars, and the public really does not want to know what is being said by the athletes. Instigating a "holier than thou" banishment on Suarez was a mistake, and will now be compounded. The FA will quickly identify themselves as the REAL RACISTS.

  6. Jack vrankovic, July 21, 2012 at 10:22 p.m.

    John Terry has a long history of nonsense.

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