John Terry Racism Trial: 5 Things We Learned

Mohamed Al-Hendy@Mo_HendyCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2012

John Terry Racism Trial: 5 Things We Learned

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    Well, the John Terry racism trial is over, and we can all go home happily, carrying on with our lives, right?

    Apparently not. According to BBC Sport, the FA look set to reopen their investigation of John Terry, while the Daily Mail is reporting that both Anton Ferdinand and John Terry could be charged by the FA for "bringing the game into disrepute."

    Oh boy. Looks like this whole issue will be dragging on for at least a few more weeks.

    In the meantime, let's take a closer look at the trial. Were there any winners? How many losers were there? Was there even a point?

    These questions and more will be answered in the coming slides.

The Right Ruling

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    Though many thought that John Terry was definitely going to be found guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, in the end, he was allowed to escape any punishment with a not-guilty decision in his favor.

    Make no mistake, though, this wasn't favoritism by the judge or O.J. Simpson-esque work by Terry's lawyers. In the end, this was the only ruling that could be made—the right ruling.

    Dominic Casciani of BBC News explains:

    There was no dispute in court that the words (in question) were uttered - so the question for the judge was whether Mr Terry had uttered them as an insult.

    The lip-readers for the prosecution and defence agreed a transcript (of the words) as best as they could - but they could not comment on the "tone of voice" or the context in which the words were being used.

    The judge concluded that the prosecution had built a strong case. But if it was so strong, why did he find John Terry not guilty? Quite simply because he could not be sure that the Chelsea player had in fact intended to insult Mr Ferdinand.

    For a start, the lip readers said they could not be clear about a couple of words in the exchange which, depending on which way you look at it, could have indicated whether or not Mr Terry was trying to insult Mr Ferdinand.

    Secondly, nobody other than Mr Terry gave any evidence about what was actually said on the pitch. Mr Ferdinand said he did not know what Mr Terry had said until later. Nobody else on the pitch heard it - or if they did, they did not offer any evidence to that effect.

    Thirdly, the judge said he accepted evidence that Mr Terry had learnt to live with the particular taunt used by Mr Ferdinand against him, so it was unlikely that he would have been wound up.

    Casciani explains the case in much further detail, but he concludes on the same note that the judge did:

    Given that doubt over the precise series of events, the judge said the only verdict could be one of not guilty.

Was There a Point?

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    Lost in the discussion of whether Terry was actually guilty of racially abusing Ferdinand was the entire point. After all, if Terry was found guilty, there was no jail sentence or massive fine on the line; if found guilty, Terry would have to pay a maximum of £2,500, according to BBC News.

    That's .167 percent of his weekly salary, for anybody wondering how it'd hit him. In other words, "slap on the wrist" might even be too strong of a phrase to describe the impact that this decision would have financially on Terry.

    Well, what about the effect of the publicity on Terry?

    That's a completely legitimate point—except with the FA set to reopen their investigation of Terry, that effect is redundant. A charge from the FA without the court trial would've earned Terry all the same bad press that his court trial did.

    And, if anything, the court's not-guilty verdict on the trial has done a favor to Terry's image.

    Jenny McCartney of the The Telegraph echoes very much the same sentiments, in greater detail, here.

Racism vs. Sexism

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    Multiple columnists, including Viv Groskop of The Independent and Jenny McCartney of The Telegraph, have pointed out that while the trial demonstrates that English society holds a strong position against racism, it still has some work to do against sexism.

    Groskop writes:

    And to some extent, yes, this [sexist stuff] is fair game. Our cultural life would be greatly impoverished, for example, without random "your mum" insults. There is a whole tradition of "Yo mamma" jokes in the US. [...] These jokes are definitely not confined to men. Tina Fey has the best one. She responded to an internet troll who accused her of being talentless and "not having a funny bone in her body" with the immortal line: "You know who does have a funny bone in her body? Your mom every night for a dollar."

    But the big problem with footballers' taunts about mothers, women and children (I'm guessing that children are taboo, although who knows) is that this teasing only works if it's not about something serious or real. Tina Fey would not have made that joke if the internet troll's mother was indeed a dollar-a-time prostitute. I hope.

    When John Terry is on the receiving end of abuse about alleged activities with a team-mate's girlfriend, it's not good-natured, imaginative teasing. It's based on the fact that colossal arrogance and casual misogyny have become key skill areas for some footballers. But no one's going to start a court case over that. Because as Terry puts it himself, all that stuff is "just handbags". Exactly as you'd expect a big girl's blouse to say.

    McCartney echoes this sentiment in her work:

    It was interesting, too, that the endless, explicit and nauseating sexual insults about wives, mothers and female genitalia are apparently universally regarded as playful banter, while the word “black” can catapult you into the dock. If any footballers are reading, I don’t think you should go to court for calling someone a “c---”, lads, but you might want to think about why you keep on doing it.

    Definitely something to think about. Should sexist language be regarded as little more than banter when we're sending people to court and possibly giving them league suspensions for using the word "black"?

A Failure on All Fronts

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    In the whole Anton Ferdinand vs. John Terry affair, there really have been no winners.

    Ferdinand may have entered the court room as the victim when the case started, but after being forced to tell the court the litany of abuse he hurled at Terry in the altercation, his image as wounded angel is very much gone, and he could soon find himself in trouble with the FA.

    Terry may have been officially ruled not guilty, but he's still in hot water with the FA and has had to deal with an elevated level of bad press since Ferdinand first accused him of using racist language.

    Going further out, though, the parties who've gotten themselves involved in the dispute have not fared much better either. The police ended up simply wasting lots of tax dollars on a trial that probably cost far more than it would've cost Terry if he was guilty. Would such a trial have taken place if the parties involved didn't have such large reputations in what is the world's most popular sports league? Unlikely.

    If they were so worried about the integrity of the game, the FA themselves should've taken a larger role in the dispute and assured the police they'd take care of the issue internally.

    Only now are charges for "bringing the game into disrepute" being considered against Terry and Ferdinand; but couldn't that have been avoided in the first place if the FA had instructed the police to allow them to handle the one and only investigation on the case?

    Aside from Terry's lawyer, who now goes home with an impressive (but fairly effortless) victory on his resume, no one has really won anything throughout this rather ugly dispute.

Silver Lining

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    The one silver lining to this entire case is that we probably won't see another major racism case open up in the next couple of years, with public anti-racism sentiment at an all-time high.

    Basically, unless a player would like to be publicly disgraced, investigated and punished by various governing bodies, he'll likely think twice, thrice or even four times before using racially abusive language.

    In a comment written in response to Michael Cummings' analysis on the fallout of the John Terry racism trial, I echoed this same message in greater detail:

    Racism in football had declined compared to how it was 2-4 decades ago...the significant majority of minority-race footballers will agree with this. Yes, the occasional BBC documentary, or big media scandal, will often lead us to think otherwise, but that intense coverage and the outrage that many feel from watching said coverage is in of itself indicative of the decline of racism in modern football.

    Now I don't intend to downplay racism's threat to football, or say that it doesn't exist anymore the way a certain Sepp Blatter may feel inclined to. It certainly still exists, and the racism we see, particularly in eastern Europe, but everywhere really, is a reminder that efforts need to be continued to punish racism wherever it exists.

    However, we must, at the same time, be pragmatic, and remember that racism is an existential barrier within society (that's my four years of high school debate kicking in). Though we hate to admit it, it's highly, highly, highly unlikely that it'll ever completely go away. Thus, the ultimate goal is to minimize it as much as possible. And if that's the ultimate goal, doesn't a trial like this help achieve that?

    I imagine that 95% of English footballers, or even English-based footballers, will think twice, three times even, before they say anything like John Terry said and risk the immense media backlash he faced. That, to me, is a victory in the battle vs racism.

    At the end of the day, we can at least say that we are continuing to win the battle against racism. A decade ago, I'd imagine that there were probably five to 10 times as many racist-language incidents, and most probably went unreported with no real action taken.

    Now, every time there's even a suspicion that racially abusive language may have been used, the suspected player is named and shamed (and automatically branded racist in the court of public opinion) and subjected to a thorough investigation.

    That may not be a complete victory, but in the battle against an attitudinal flaw like racism, it is a major one.


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