Friday, 21 November 2014

Dave Whelan: Time for sports media to look at itself?

Dave Whelan’s comments yesterday about Jewish and Chinese people were wrong. We agree.

That’s the easy bit over with.

To recap, the Wigan owner said it was acceptable to use the word ‘chink’, which has been widely used as an offensive and derogatory term.

He also pedalled a familiar stereotype about Jewish people – that they ‘chase money more than everybody else’ - a stereotype which has led to persecution.

A mob quickly formed to condemn Whelan – on Twitter, on websites, on radio stations, on 24-hour news channels.

Everyone agreed that the words, the sentiments, were not acceptable in this day and age. Whelan had become an easy target - take aim, fire.

In the age of 24-hour news, the story was manna from heaven.

Report the quotes, get someone on to condemn them (this was easy, as people were queuing up to do so) and then get Whelan himself on to issue a grovelling apology.

The journalists and commentators whipped themselves up into more and more of a frenzy and the adjectives became more and more hysterical - ‘outrageous’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘moral maze’, ‘cesspit’.

Simon Johnson - the former CEO of England’s 2018 World Cup bid team, which had tried to get a job for a family friend of the disgraced Jack Warner and thrown a £35,000 gala dinner for Warner and Caribbean football officials – was fastest to condemn Whelan.

Fair enough, Johnson is chief executive of the Jewish leadership council, but it stuck in the craw to hear him decrying the morals of the game.

I think much of the reaction was easy, lazy, hysterical and hypocritical.

As we know from school, there’s nothing easier than joining the crowd and picking on one kid.

Yet don’t we agree that intentions are more important than words? And deeds are certainly more important than words.

You can learn the politically-acceptable language of the day. However, simply doing this isn't enough.

I remember watching an old tape from the late 1970s of a football match involving West Brom. The commentator kept referring to the “wonderful trio of coloured players” and, as a modern viewer, it was uncomfortable to hear.

That wouldn’t be acceptable now and the commentator subsequently stopped using the word “coloured” when he covered matches.

But does that mean his thoughts had necessarily changed?

Conversely, Alan Hansen was forced to issue a grovelling apology when he used the term “coloured” on Match of the Day in 2011.

Yet he was using a term which had been deemed acceptable when he was playing.

His former team-mate John Barnes said it was ridiculous Hansen was forced to apologise and that the man he knew so well was definitely no racist.

"In the 1970s people were afraid to call me black because they thought it was an insult," Barnes said. "They would say 'coloured'. Now it has gone full circle. It's not an issue. The INTENTION is the most important thing."

Words versus intentions. Words versus deeds.

Many of those condemning Whelan work for newspapers and broadcasters which are overwhelmingly – in fact staggeringly - white.

How many non-white sports columnists do you know on the newspapers?

How many non-white sports correspondents, presenters and reporters?

How many non-white editors of newspapers, or of TV sports programmes?

In fact how many people of black or ethnic background do you know who work on the sports desks in any capacity?

I’ll tell you – hardly any.

And I was staggered to find out that not a single black UK newspaper journalist was sent to cover the World Cup.

There’s been a lot of talk of the need for a Rooney Rule in football and I actually think it should be introduced.

But maybe there needs to be a Rooney Rule in the media - and sports media in particular - as well.

Sport is played, watched and read about by a lot of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Back to Whelan.

He’s a 77-year-old man from a different era.

Do you know many people in their 70s? I know a few.

Would you be confident that - if they were quizzed about issues of race and ethnicity - then they’d use appropriate language?

I’d say it would be quite easy to catch them out.

Whelan talked more and more and dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole. He got very mixed up and muddled.

He thought he was talking positively about Jewish people.

After all, he’s someone who has devoted his life to money making, and thought, misguidedly, that he was paying a compliment.

“Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do?

“I think they are a very shrewd people. The Jews don’t like losing money.

“Nobody likes losing money. I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else.

“I don’t think that’s offensive at all.”

And on the Chinese: “If an Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying.

“There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.”

When I was growing up, I often heard a Chinese takeaway described as a ‘chinky’. As a kid, I didn't have the confidence or the knowledge to challenge anyone about this.

As the owner of a football club and of a big business, Whelan should undoubtedly have known better. But has he ever been challenged about this before?

Words and deeds.

A lot of people have asked whether 'a man like this' should be running a football club?

Well, Whelan wasn’t elected - he bought the club.

And he’s run it very well, judging him on just about any criteria.

He’s built a new stadium, turned a profit, won the FA Cup, had long runs in the Premier League, promoted homegrown players and – up until the last couple of years – stuck with his managers.

He’s employed Spanish, German, Irish and Scottish managers. Never a black one, admittedly, but then he’s hardly alone there, is he?

And I’ll come back to that question of how many black people are currently employed in the mainstream sports media?

Whelan has also employed players from every corner of the globe – Ecuador, Grenada, Honduras, and so on and so on. That doesn't mean he isn't racist, of course, but then I’ve not heard any specific accusations of racism against him in the past either.

Perhaps, if he's been accustomed to using language or expressing views like this, he should have been challenged before, but that doesn't seem to have happened. Perhaps it's difficult to challenge the multi-millionaire owners of football clubs.

Whelan's biggest mistake has been to open himself up now, to the national media, as a man from a different era.

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