Between heated on-pitch words and 140-character online blasts, English football is having a hard time distancing itself from a pesky racism controversy and an unexpectedly escalating image problem.
John Terry was found not guilty last week of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. The charge stemmed from some heated words during a match last October between Terry's Chelsea and Ferdinand's Queens Park Rangers.
The alleged language was extreme and shocking—over the past week, the phrase "f***ing black c***" found so much life online that it nearly became a meme—but in the view of the presiding magistrate, ultimately unprovable.
Even so, the potential penalties for Terry were hardly daunting. Had he been found guilty, Terry would have faced a maximum fine of £2,500 and no possibility of jail time, per BBC.
It was no surprise, then, that journalists, fans and players wondered aloud what the point of the trail was at all. As The Guardian's Jenny McCartney writes:
If its aim was to expose a degraded culture of crude insult at the heart of English football, it did so superbly. For all other purposes it appeared to be an absurdly heavy-handed attempt at resolution, which made the mixed-race players involved as uneasy and unhappy as everyone else.
Make no mistake, though: At its heart, the culture of English football is degraded. McCartney recognized it, and so did B/R's Will Tidey:
For a lot of Americans, swearing is as quintessentially English as drinking tea with the Queen, at a cricket match, in the pouring rain.
The Terry trial won't do much to dilute that stereotype.
Perhaps not, but the days of X-rated football matches might be ending sooner than previously expected. As The Independent reports, English football's players' union has called for its members to receive red cards for "foul and abusive language to each other."
Such a move might not solve the problem entirely. Referees will surely find it difficult to differentiate between players swearing at themselves—maybe after a missed shot or poor pass—and players abusing one another.
The PFA's stance is a positive step, though, even if it can't account for everything players say.
With Chelsea defender Ashley Cole making headlines for his defense of teammate John Terry at trial, Ferdinand raised tensions further with a careless tweet. ESPNSoccernet explains:
A Twitter user wrote: "Looks like Ashley Cole's going to be their choc ice. Then again he's always been a sell out. Shame on him," to which Rio Ferdinand responded: "I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic! hahahahahahha!!"
Ferdinand's tweet has since been removed.
"Choc ice" is sometimes used as a derogatory word to describe a person who is black but acts white. Ferdinand, however, denied the tweet was meant that way:
What I said yesterday is not a racist term. Its a type of slang/term used by many for someone who is being fake. So there.— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 15, 2012
We've heard remarkably similar explanations before, coincidentally when Luis Suarez was defending himself for on-field words directed at Ferdinand's Manchester United teammate Patrice Evra.
In this case, Ferdinand probably did not intend for his words to carry a racial connotation. With his brother going through a difficult race-related trial, intentional racial baiting seems unlikely. But the tweet was unwise, and it did highlight—again—the fact that footballers often say and do things they shouldn't.
That won't ever stop, but the PFA's stance on swearing is an encouraging sign that positive action could be coming.
In the meantime, let's hope everyone gives the John Terry case a rest.