In April Gordon Strachan, the former Scotland manager, was dropped from Sky Sports because of his comments on Adam Johnson. Appearing on The Debate, Gordon Strachan was asked if he saw anyway that Johnson would be able to return to the English game since being released from prison. Strachan answered the question: “If he goes on the pitch and people start calling him names, have we got to do the same as it is to the racist situation?”
With the topic of black footballers suffering racist abuse from opposing fans, he felt that it was acceptable to draw a link between the two scenarios. This association that Strachan made between the racist abuse black footballers have received and the likely abuse that Johnson would receive due to the nature of his crime is where he took everyone by surprise. Immediately, Sky Sports dropped the Scotsman and made a statement which included an apology for anything that viewers may have found offensive.
This instant decision to permanently remove Strachan as an employee did raise some eyebrows. It is not surprising that a comment like that should result in his dismissal in the manner that it did, but it does make you think…what is needed to get the sack?
The former Scotland boss was deeply affected by the reaction of those in the media. Shortly after the show aired, Strachan made a public apology where he tried to set the record straight. And as expected, he simply did not mean comments to come off the way they did. He made it crystal clear that he did not intentionally mean to conflate the serious issue of racist abuse with the particular chants that Johnson could receive because of the stigma associated with his crime. Although we were all able to lay gobsmacked with the words that came out of his mouth, most of us knew that he just didn’t express his opinion very well.
Where was Strachan’s fair trial?
The odd thing is that because Sky Sports got rid of Strachan as fast as possible, he was not able to save his job with the explanation of what he really meant. The giant news network clearly made no attempt whatsoever at protecting their employee from the intense abuse he would be faced with before giving an apology. This is not the first time that a Sky Sports pundit has made ridiculous comments that ended their career with the company.
A few years back, the duo of Andy Gray and Richard Keys made the worst mistake of their professional careers. The sexist comments made, when the two thought the audio was not being picked up, were offensive towards the lineswoman that was involved in the particular game that they were analysing. This sparked a massive conversation between those that considered the comments to be nothing more than banter and those that thought the comments were a vile attempt to slander a female official. Richard Keys made the very point that it was just banter and the comments were not serious. This forced Sky Sports to consider whether Gray and Keys’ long relationship with the network was enough to allow them to continue together. In the end, Sky felt that they had to part ways with the dynamic duo.
But is the situation that Sky had with Gray and Keys the same as the situation with Strachan? Richard Keys did not make a formal apology stating that he was totally in the wrong and regretted his comments. It is obvious that Gray and Keys were saying things that they believe and the only reason that viewers were able to listen to their views is that they thought nobody could hear them.
However, Gordon Strachan was having a discussion live on television with the rest of the panel on the programme. He knew fine well everyone was listening to what he had to say. The truth is that Strachan was not afraid to say what he said because he did not mean to offend anyone. The intention by Strachan was simply to criticise the potential abuse that Johnson could receive. Of course, his intention could not be fully understood, as the way he formed his answer did come across as quite shocking. The key difference between the comments made by Strachan and the comments made by Gray and Keys is that Strachan did not mean to insult anyone…but that is all that the dynamic duo sought to do.
Does anyone deserve a second chance?
Sky Sports does not immediately fire everyone that negatively stuns the media. Former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher was caught on camera as he spat through the rolled-down window of a car that had a young girl in it. This is worse than anything a person could say by accident or on purpose. Knowing he was being filmed, Carragher still decided to lash out in the vilest of manors. In reaction to this, Sky decided to merely give the former player a short-term suspension. Why was Carragher not immediately fired? There is no explaining those actions. You can’t mean to do something else but end up spitting through a car window.
With the recent situation handled so poorly by Sky, it is impossible to gain a good grasp of where the line is drawn as far of the things you can and cannot do as a pundit. Two instances saw people say foolish things. One instance is quickly met with an apology by the pundit that said such controversial comments, yet he is the one that was dropped by the network far quicker than those who did not apologise. The only man that kept his job is the one that actually committed that closer to a crime.
Sky Sports is in desperate need of an in-depth evaluation of their criteria for levels of punishment for an employee. Even without an evaluation of their guidelines, it should be obvious that accidental words cannot be treated as if they are worse than spitting at a child.
Former footballers coming into the field of broadcasting must be very careful with what they say. Pundits should be very anxious, knowing that getting sacked is far more likely now because of the things you may accidentally explain wrongly.