‘Banter’ is a poison

Banter.

Banter.

Where to start?

In August, 2014, ex-Cardiff City FC manager, Malky Mackay was been in the news for allegedly engaging in racist, sexist, and homophobic text message conversations with former Sporting Director at Crystal Palace, Iain Moody. I won’t link to the articles describing the alleged texts; you can find them easily enough with a quick google search!

Kick it Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, released a statement on the matter, which you can read here, but for me, the important part was right at the end:

“This familiar scenario acts as a challenge to the leadership of football that cannot be shirked again. The governing bodies and the clubs must denounce such attitudes prevalent in the game, and take the appropriate action.”

However, rather than denouncing such attitudes, the League Manager’s Association (LMA) released a statement which seems to dismiss entirely unacceptable behaviour as ‘banter’. We have been here before… several times in fact. And this culture of using ‘banter’ as an excuse for being an absolute arsehole has to come to an end.

Here’s the LMA statement in full, with some thoughts as to why I feel it’s entirely insufficient, ill-conceived, and damaging.

“In the course of a search by the Club in early 2014 of 10,000 private text messages sent to and from another member of staff during Mr Mackay’s employment at Cardiff…”

Presumably the fact that they were “private” somehow diminishes the fact that the content was terrifically racist. As long as we’re racist behind closed doors, it’s ok?

“…in relation to other matters, it emerged that Malky had, it seems, sent a couple of one line texts that were, with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures.”

The fact that they’re referred to as “a couple of one line texts” is again entirely dismissive of the issue. It was only a couple of texts. They were only one liners. What’s the problem? But do you really need hindsight to see that what you’re typing is racist? Do you need a few weeks to realise that writing about “Fkn chinkys” might be a tad bit controversial? I guess it’s not obvious at the time, right?

“These were two text messages sent in private at a time Malky felt under great pressure and when he was letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter.”

I don’t even know where to start with this. First, I’ve done a fair bit of work in the area of stress and pressure. I’ve written a few papers on coaches who work in extremely high-pressured environments, and their responses to stress have never included making racial slurs via text. Malky was under pressure, so the racist (and allegedly homophobic and misogynistic) texts were justified? Second, it was just some “friendly text message banter.”

This is, I think, where I have the biggest problem. The culture of ‘banter’ is a sickening poison, and those who use ‘banter’ as an excuse, are essentially saying “whatever you’re upset about, you shouldn’t be, because it’s only a couple of blokes (and yes it is usually men) having a laugh. Stop being offended and get over it.”

More banter.

More banter.

“That said, Malky believes he could and should have conducted himself better on these two isolated occasions. The precise details need to remain private for the time being until any FA process is complete. 

“The LMA does not condone in any way any potential breach of equal opportunities laws but would also point out that out of over 10,000 text messages and 70,000 documents produced over a long period of time it may not be a complete surprise that some inappropriate comments can sometimes be made by employees, like Malky, working under great pressure in highly charged situations.

“If Malky has caused any offence by these two isolated matters he would, however, wish to sincerely apologise.”

Seriously? Out of 10,000 texts, it’s hardly surprising that a few of them are racist? You’ve genuinely written and published that as an official statement? That’s what you’re going with? Really? Well, I suppose when you’re under pressure, you just can’t help being racist. It’s only banter though. You know, letting off some steam.

“Malky finds it strange that these matters were only raised with the FA and in the media now, eight months after his employment ended and the day before he was reported as being offered the opportunity to become manager of Crystal Palace FC. Malky is also very concerned about seriously inaccurate and misleading reports of his alleged involvement in these matters in the media.

“It has never been alleged that he wrote any homophobic or sexist messages and he has confirmed that he did not do so. Further, there are incorrect and damaging suggestions that he sent a whole host of offensive and unpleasant messages that are simply not true and which give a grossly distorted and unfair view of Malky’s involvement in this matter.”

Is the amount of racism really the appropriate focus here? Plus, if we’re passing off racist remarks as ‘banter’, I’m not sure we’re in the best position to say what constitutes sexist or homophobic content, now are we?

“Malky looks forward to matters being put straight in due course, following any investigation of this matter. Malky cannot of course comment on the nature of any conduct or communications alleged to have been made by others. Malky has said that he will be fully co-operating with any FA investigation and that he looks forward to putting the record straight thereafter.”

So that’s it. That’s the LMA’s official statement on the matter. The “it’s just banter” excuse – and that’s exactly what it is, a tired excuse – is not tackling discrimination, it’s ignoring it. And that’s just not good enough.

Were you satisfied with the LMA’s statement? Do you think it missed the mark? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so leave a comment below if you like.

UPDATE:

Shortly after this post was first published, the LMA has issued another statement, apologising for their previous statement (Monty Python anyone?). Anyway, here’s their apology:

“The LMA apologises for some of its wording, in its release yesterday, which was inappropriate and has been perceived to trivialise matters of a racist, sexist or homophobic nature. That was certainly not our intention. It is beyond argument that any comments that are discriminatory, even used in private, are totally unacceptable. The LMA remains absolutely aware of our responsibility to the game and to promote and uphold the highest standards of behaviour.”

While this apology is a step in the right direction, I just wonder why you would write a statement if you think that the wording was inappropriate and could be perceived to trivialise some of the issues involved. Maybe they could only see that with the benefit of hindsight. Maybe they were under a lot of pressure. Maybe it was just banter.

  4 comments for “‘Banter’ is a poison

  1. August 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

    LMA’S Statement?

    It seemed to me more like ‘the LMA’S defence of Malky Mackay’.

    As an aspiring coach, Malky’s conduct frightens more than it disappoints me. A coach who fancied colour over character.

    This is against everything that i as an ‘educated’ individual have based my coaching philosophy on.

    It also confirms convictions that minorities have had about the footballing fellowship in the United Kingdom.

    Furthermore, I assume that in two weeks time, this will be a heap of dust under the carpet, much like the Scudamore incident.

    I hope for Malky’s sake that this forms a turning point in his outlook on life, not only in coaching.

    • August 22, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Thanks for your comment, Kobi. I hope it doesn’t just get swept under the carpet, but like so many other things, I fear it will be old news fairly soon. It’s up to us to keep talking about it and keep demonstrating that, no it’s not acceptable!

  2. Tim Jarrett
    August 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Good article Pete.

    Like so many failing or stagnating organisations, it is the inability to lead from the top/front that will prevent taking steps forward. Dissapointing from a organisation that is in the public spotlight.

    • August 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Cheers Tim.
      It’s just amazing that this sort of thing seems to happen over and over again, with absolutely no lessons being learned, whatsoever!

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