Last night, viewers of the BBC2 programme “Match Of The Day 2″ (which, like most sequels, largely fails to capture the excitement of the original) were somewhat surprised to hear a comment made by the former West Ham United and Charlton Athletic manager Alan Pardew which likened a tackle by Michael Essien to (a?) rape. In this day and age, any comment that transgresses a dividing line between what is considered to be acceptable and what isn’t. The BBC reportedly fielded thirty-five complaints on the subject last night, although whether that number has been swollen after press reports on the the story today hasn’t been confirmed by the BBC yet.
So, is this an example of (so help me God) “Political Correctness Gone Made”? Well, no, not really. Rape is obviously a pretty horrific concept, and there is an exceptionally strong case to be made for saying that Pardew should have thought through what he said prior to saying it. There is a case for saying that he was merely expressing the language of the changing room in a television studio, but anyone that has spent any time in football dressing rooms will be able to confirm that there are many other things that are said in them that should never be said in front of television cameras. It was a stupid thing to say, and that should probably be the end of the matter.
And yet, and yet. A quick check of the comments pages of some of the biggest newspapers suggest that there are certainly more apologists for Pardew over this comment than there were for him while he was the manager of West Ham United. Some have argued that Pardew was being metaphorical rather than literal, turning to the dictionary’s alternative definitions of the word. “Violation, despoiling or abuse”, says the Chambers English Dictionary, after all. This argument only has a limited merit to it, even though it is technically correct. Footballers and football managers aren’t exactly celebrated for their use of alliteration and verbal trickery, and it’s difficult to imagine that Pardew was being purposefully metaphorical when he used the word. The key question is this: would it have been any better or worse had he called Michael Essien a rapist?
Of course, there are those that have their alternative agendas that will use this as a stick to beat the BBC with. The reaction in newspapers has been interesting. Many have a clear anti-BBC bias, which has a solid reasoning behind it. The Times, The Sun and The News of The World are owned by Rupert Murdoch. Sky TV considers the licence fee as little short of an anti-competitive bonus towards the BBC. The Daily Mail considers the BBC to the supreme overlords of “Political Correctness Gone Mad” and went to town to a ridiculous extent in campaigns against the corporation last year, and if this seems pretty cut and dried, you should consider the comments made when Carol Thatcher described a black tennis player as looking like a “golliwog” a couple of months ago which didn’t stop far short of endorsing her racism.
The truth, of course, is some way between the two extremes. It’s not the most outrageous thing ever said on live television, but it was a pretty stupid thing to say and Pardew should be criticised for having said it. We shall see whether this turns into a storm in a teacup or not. Neither making excuses for his words nor affecting mock outrage will really do anything of much substance. It would be for the best if he steers clear of television studios for a while.