Desmond Kane

Reckless talk hinders anti-racism crusade

Desmond Kane

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Put a beggar on horseback and he'll ride to hell. It continues to fascinate this onlooker how folk continue to turn a little bit eccentric when a television camera is trained on them. It is difficult to imagine Philip Schofield used to share roomspace with a puppet called Gordon the Gopher on Children's TV on the BBC three decades ago. Little did we know then that he would unwittingly become a self-appointed celebrity nonce-hunter on television for grown-ups.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fourth goal against England made for good theatre on live TV this week, but Schofield's decision to brandish a list of suspected paedophiles assembled from internet hearsay in front of the Prime Minister David Cameron was as astonishing as Ibra's goal. Goodness knows what Gordon made of it.

Schofield is not the only figure who has been spotted fraternising with some ludicrous conduct in the spotlight.  Peter Herbert, the audible chair of a group called the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) and a figure who can be spotted with the Reverend Jesse Jackson on his personal website, seems to offer his tuppenceworth on what feels like a daily basis on the apparent racist goings on within the heart of English football.

Herbert spoke of "cover-ups" and accused the Football Association of being "institutionally racist" after criticising the game's governing body and Chelsea for failing to report referee Mark Clattenburg to the Metropolitan Police for the nature of the comments he is alleged to have made to a home player during the rotting match with Manchester United in the Premier League.

We are in the age of the easily offended when people need no invitation to fly into a righteous fury. The era of the vigilante, mob rule and burning racists/paedophiles at the stake is upon us. It is dangerous to make claims without having them substantiated. In these times of the unregulated and the unhinged out there in cyberspace, the shenanigans of men like Schofield are bewildering.

In such moments, gauging people's sensibilities becomes a difficult task. It is becoming more and more curious, and slightly strange, why a once obscure but increasingly visible group like the SBL are treated as a relevance in spouting views apparently without much evidence to support their claims. The irony of penning this blog about the SBL is rich, but the point deserves to be made: how would society treat a group of white lawyers making such claims? Or wanting to set up a breakaway union of white players? It would be viewed with some dismay.

Coming from a group of lawyers, one imagines being innocent until proven guilty is one of the great pillars of the justice system. But apparently not.

Sky Sports News and BBC Radio Five Live seemed to revel in wafting a microphone in front of Herbert the other day in the name of filling some dead air time on a quiet international football week. It is reckless stuff aided by poor quality news values. But then we seem to be in a frazzled period for journalistic standards in this country.

In any walk of life, one can be part of the problem or part of the solution. The FA chairman David Bernstein's musings that the SBL's comments were "unhelpful" was one way of describing the rant while retaining a nod to decorum.

An obvious trick of journalism is to create a story where none existed (which Herbert's loose talk provided) then following up with a counter-claim from the accused (the FA). Suddenly you have a story that did not need to exist in the greater public interest.

"I wouldn't want to comment on what is going on without the full facts and evidence, and I think it is ill-advised for Mr Herbert to do so and make accusations of collusions and cover-ups without us having drawn to any conclusion in this yet. I think it is unwelcome." This came from Clarke Carlisle, the chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association chairman and a black man who plays for York City.

"Mr.Herbert not been on the news yet today can anybody who knows him please check whether he's ok," said the former Germany player Dietmar Hamann on his Twitter account.

One of my colleagues told me the other night of how a bloke made a monkey gesture towards him in a game of five-a-side. Such characters remain in our midst suffering from a mental illness, no matter what is said.

The shiny Premier League is uncomfortable with the idea that some of its leading multi-millionaire players are racist - a mere extension of what goes on in everyday life - but it remains dangerous to making sweeping generalisations about the game's governing body being party to some sort of conspiracy.

That is not to say to racism should be swept under the carpet, but the fight against it must have some sort of substance, not wild allegations. Kick It Out's Paul Elliott, the former Celtic and Chelsea defender, will tell you of the need for racist footballers to be embarrassed, re-educated and rehabilitated in his ongoing quest to make the national sport a healthier place for families. Kick it Out were in place a long time before the SBL decided to take up the cudgel.

Football must be allowed room to get its own house in order before it goes running off to the Police. No matter how much the severity of his punishment is debated, the FA acted against the former England captain John Terry when the court system did not.

The anti-racist brigade means well but loose talk can be as much of a problem as the racists they are trying to expose. Especially when they are given a soapbox on quiet news days by media outlets looking for snow when none is falling.

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