Gray, Keys & The Chance Of A Clean Sweep In British Football Broadcasting

By on Jan 24, 2011 in English League Football, Latest | 20 comments

That Andy Gray and Richard Keys have been suspended from duty by Sky Sports for this evening’s Premier League match should come as no great surprise. The issue of their off-the-microphone comments regarding several different issues relating to the role of women in football has spiralled out of the control of the broadcaster and hasn’t blown over in the manner in which Sky might have hoped. They had the opportunity to apologise properly for the comments at any point during Sky’s Sunday broadcast yesterday, but this opportunity was not taken. It may, at this point, be worth asking the question of asking why this was not done and what will happen now.

There is no questioning the stupidity of the comments that Gray and Keys made, and the fact that they managed to crowbar another female referee, Wendy Toms, and some disparaging comments about Karren Brady into their conversation would seem to indicate that the appointment of Massey was just one aspect of the matter of the role of women in the game that they, for whatever reason, have an issue with. That such comments still cause some degree of surprise is a reflection upon the extent to which the locker-room mentality of senior football is now kept behind closed doors, but it still exists and the fact that Gray and Keys’ comments on the role of women within the game were made off-microphone and that it is not unreasonable to argue that nether of them would have so much as considered making them on-camera is in itself says something itself about this culture.

The comments concerning Massey were made before the match, but Gray still called an “offside” decision in the build-up to Liverpool’s opening goal incorrectly himself during Sky’s Saturday broadcast. What does it say about the standard of modern football punditry in Britain when said pundits, with the benefit of slow motion action replays and the benefits of repeated viewing, still can’t call a decision correctly when the referee’s assistant called it correctly in the first place? This, perhaps, should be a matter that also gives the management of Sky Sports pause for consideration when considering what to do next. The over-riding matter for discussion, however, needs to remain this gross sexism and whether the continuing employment of Gray and Keys is tenable, considering what they said and the uproar that it has led to. The alternative to a call of incompetence being levelled at them – and there surely couldn’t have been a deliberate attempt on their part to undermine the authority of Sian Massey on account of her gender – doesn’t bear thinking about, but neither explanation covers them in glory.

The options facing Sky now seem to be for them to either rest them for a couple of weeks and give the subject time to blow over, or to sack them for gross misconduct. Considering the extent to which the old boys club still seems to exist within the game, it seems unlikely that the latter will happen. The former may end up being the way that this story plays out but, much as this is the expedient route for Sky to follow (it demonstrates to the world that they have taken action without really admitting any liability for what was said, and, “Why should we?”, they may well ask, considering that the words were not said on-screen) but how many viewers would readily accept a public apology, if one were to ge forthcoming? A public apology wouldn’t be worth anything if it was merely being said because somebody – the show’s producer, the channel’s head, Rupert Murdoch, whoever – was demanding it because they thought that it was what the watching audience wanted to hear and that it would placate what seems to have been very real and very heartfelt anger over the comments.

A far bolder move would be for Sky to offer them to save their jobs by taking part in a round-table discussion on the issue of sexism within football. Broadcasting such a programme would give everyone an opportunity to understand what Gray and Keys said, why they said it and what might actually be done in order to help to clean the game of such attitudes. Sexism, racism and homophobia have no place in football, this much we already know, but the value of campaigns such as the FA’s “Respect” campaign are fundamentally undermined if it becomes common knowledge that people working within the game at a senior level (and broadcasters are at a senior level) still hold such attitudes. This is not a question of conducting a public humiliation of Gray and Keys, but of actually taking steps to address such issues and what might be done to resolve them. To suggest that women are somehow incapable of refereeing football matches is such a bizarre statement to make that it is worthy of a full and proper explanation, for every female referee, player, supporter and Sky Sports subscriber, at the very least.

It has been suggested by some that the comments don’t merit our attention because they weren’t made on-air. This, however, is something of a straw man argument. We have, by hook or by crook, managed to establish the viewpoints of the Gray and Keys on the subject of women in football. They are in a position of responsibility because of the positions that they hold and should be called to account for them. It would perhaps be more pertinent to wonder what the reaction to the comments might have been had they been racist or homophobic. Are the comments made somehow “less bad” because they were aimed at women than they might have been had they been aimed at individuals of a specific ethnic background or sexual persuasion? There will always be those more than happy to disparage any criticism of this sort as “political correctness gone mad”. That these voices can sometimes be very loud doesn’t make them right, though.

These events couldn’t come at a worse time for football on the television, should we be allowed to ringfence such a concept as anything solid. Criticism has grown and grown over the last few months over the quality of punditry on British television and events such as these only add fuel to this fire. Perhaps, though, there is an opportunity with stories such as this for broadcasters to think a little more laterally in terms of who they choose to front their programmes. If the likes of Gray and Keys are relics from a bygone age then they, and all the others of their generation that hold similar opinions, should be swept out. Nobody has a divine right to perpetual employment in any sphere, and if the judgement of Gray and Keys cannot be trusted, there are plenty of others that could take their place. For Sky Sports and British sports broadcasters in a more general sense, there is an opportunity to be grasped here. The question is one of whether any of them have the nerve to seize the nettle or not.

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    20 Comments

  1. Superb clip

    Jertzeedon

    January 25, 2011

  2. I think this has been completely blown out of all proportion. Has everyone suddenly lost their sense of humour?
    The comments were made off-air and were clearly not meant to be taken seriously. It’s pretty hypocritical of these journalists and bloggers harping on as if they’ve never made an un-pc comment themselves before.

    In every workplace and social gathering you hear mildly racist, sexist, homophobic, or nationalist jokes on occasion. It’s just normal everyday banter. Even on TV you hear far more vicious jokes of this nature from the likes of Top Gear, Frankie Boyle, or Family Guy.

    Football commentary is pretty bland and humourless at the best of times, and this kind of uproar at such a mild comment is only going to make things worse.

    If Gray and Keys are bad pundits then they should be sacked for being bad pundits, not because of some silly comment made in private.

    James

    January 25, 2011

  3. Among the distressing number of people defending Keys and Gray (including James), I wonder how amny would have laughed their comments off as “banter” had they been directed towards the Army or The Royal family? It really is time for root and branch reform of the broadcasting of our national sport.

    Lanterne Rouge

    January 25, 2011

  4. I very much doubt The Royal Family understand the offside rule.

    What are you actually suggesting? That commentators should not be allowed to make any disparaging jokes about anyone, even in private? There’s not much humour that doesn’t involve mocking someone or something.

    Why is it ok for comedians to make those kind of jokes as part of their show, but not commentators, even when they weren’t part of the show?

    There is a line between good natured banter and hurtful discrimination, but these comments were nowhere near it.

    James

    January 25, 2011

  5. If it was light hearted banter, I would have a small amount of sympathy for James’ view. However, listening to the clip their tone is one of bitterness without a hint of humour. These are clearly deeply held prejudices, which I don’t believe have any place in our society.

    Wimblepool

    January 25, 2011

  6. Disagree entirely with James and others like him who say that the comments ‘weren’t meant to be taken seriously’ and put it all down to ‘hilarious’ blokey banter.

    Listen to the audio. It ain’t jokey. They both mean it. Defend their comments if you want to, but don’t try and pretend they were saying it as a laugh.

    Gareth

    January 25, 2011

  7. There’s no way you can tell from a twenty second clip with no context that those comments represent deeply held views. I know I’ve had similar conversations with guys at football matches and I certainly don’t hold those views. It’s just typical gloomy footy banter.
    People don’t always say what they mean. Have you never heard of sarcasm, irony, exaggeration, and trolling? Are you seriously suggesting that Gray and Keys genuinely believe that women are incapable of understanding the offside rule?

    If Sky employees who regularly work with those guys come forward and confirm that they actually do hold such ignorant views then fine, sack them; but so far nothing can be judged from the clips I’ve heard.

    James

    January 25, 2011

  8. Also Andy Gray was fired for a combination of things. He got a warning yesterday for his comments regarding Massey, but then the sack today when it came out that he’d made some inappropriate comments to Charlotte Jackson (a fellow Sky Sports presenter) back in December. That video is on YouTube as well.

    online fitness marketing

    January 26, 2011

  9. What makes me laugh is that someone like Harry Redknapp can publicly admit to not knowing the offside rule and that’s him talking straight. Good old harry. Something’s gotta be done about the rule it’s too complicated. I expect Keys and Gray would agree with him whole-heartedly.

    Dale

    January 26, 2011

  10. Good ol’ Harry struggles with a lot of rules, especially tax ones…

    Martin

    January 26, 2011

  11. This is a very left wing article and is a storm in a teacup, and is political correctness gone mad. Anyone who actually thinks this doesn’t happen in daily life all over the country clearly needs to get with it. All the years of social engineering by Labour can’t eradicate common sensical views. Football is a man’s game. Netball is a women’s game. End of.

    Ben

    January 26, 2011

  12. Anyone who uses the phrase “political correctness gone mad” or “End of” is going to struggle to participate in any debate ouside their Daily Mail comfort zone.

    Steve

    January 26, 2011

  13. “Posted by Steve on January 26th, 2011, 16:12

    Anyone who uses the phrase “political correctness gone mad” or “End of” is going to struggle to participate in any debate ouside their Daily Mail comfort zone.”

    I couldn’t agree more! Also, this lame justification that such comments are made every day by people up and down the land is just pathetic, and in my opinion, all the more reason to get rid of Gray and Keys who are clearly a bad example. There have been many comments on the internet defending these two dinosaurs this week which have caused me much dismay. I thought we had made much more progress than we obviously have, and it would appear that such views were just being suppressed until the opportunity came along to join with the other blokey blokes and call it ‘banter’ and label anyone who disagrees as part of the “pee-cee brigade”. This was far from banter, there was no humour in their voices which sounded bitter and resentful more than anything else. From what I have read in the press this week, they had this coming a long time with their alleged bullying and sexism, if this is true they got what they deserved. This behaviour all feels like a throwback to the 70s, 80s and has no place on national TV, nor indeed anywhere.

    shash

    January 27, 2011

  14. What Keys and Gray said might have been ok if they were joking, in which case they could claim they didn’t actually believe what they were saying.

    But it’s clear from listening to them that they fully believed what they were saying – women cannot understand a simple rule. It was not ‘banter’.

    So for me it’s a simple credibility issue. They can believe what they want, but I couldn’t take such Neanderthals seriously on any subject again, including football. They had to go.

    Gary

    January 27, 2011

  15. I’m going to throw my 2 pence in and say I think the calls for Gray and Keys to be sacked for their comments are over the top.

    I find their comments crass and stupid in the extreme but to demand that someone be sacked from their job because you don’t like their views smacks of McCarthyism.

    Unfortunately these kind of PC witchhunts are becoming all too common and the sanctimonious postings of some on here are a bit hard to swallow. Either you’ve all lead impeccable lives guys or you’ve never heard of “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

    Micky F

    January 28, 2011

  16. Micky F, don’t you think we should expect a certain level of behaviour from people we pay millions a year?

    The best way to avoid a witchhunt is to avoid acting like a witch…

    Martin

    January 28, 2011

  17. So what you’re saying Martin is that people who earn a lot of money should act like saints at all times, while those of us who aren’t paid as well can behave a little less appropriately? No double standard there.

    As for your final comment, all I can say is you should try reading The Crucible, as you might gain some insights.

    Micky F

    January 28, 2011

  18. Hooray….. Keys and Gray have been sacked……i cannot stand the pair. Gray has been voted THE WORST FOOTBALL PUNDIT, so what do we need him for?
    Keys has now stooped lower, getting his wife and daughter pleading for him, obviously they don’t mind being talked to like a WHORE as he did to Louise Glass, hope Louise and her husband sues him.

    T Wallis PERTH

    January 30, 2011

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