It proved, as things turned out, to be a very expensive night on the ale for Shaun Tuck. Yesterday in court at Liverpool, Tuck was sentenced to twelve weeks in prison over a series of racist and offensive tweets that the Witton Albion striker sent in the immediate aftermath of the murder of drummer Lee Rigby earlier this summer. Tuck had pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him, so we might surmise that that even this wouldn’t have been the shortest imaginable sentence that could be passed against somebody committing such an offence under the Communications Act, and the presiding judge, Miriam Shelvey, didn’t exactly hold back in her summing up of the case:
These tweets contained threats of violence to innocent persons, including children, who would be victims solely because of their religion. They were promoting hatred of other community members entirely because of their religious beliefs.
Tuck, then, has paid something approaching as high a price as it is possible to pay for such behaviour, but there is little to celebrate from this whole unhappy episode. There is nothing to celebrate about a society that produces the sort of fear that runs through the language of the out and out racist, and there has been even less to celebrate about either the death of Rigby or the recriminations that have been wreaked upon Muslim communities in this country in the weeks since it came to pass. The easy option is to chuck people who express opinions of this sort in a metaphorical box, label them as ‘the enemy’ and leave it all at that. The altogether more troubling broader perspective of how and why the likes of Tuck and up sympathising with extremist groups such as that with which he so ham-fistedly expressed his support, meanwhile, remains largely unanswered at the moment.
The player’s club, Witton Albion, supported him to the very last, offering a character witness at the trial and having erred on very much of the side of caution when it came to any public statements on the subject. Up to a point, this is understandable and the argument that Tucks behaviour put his employers a truly unenviable position is far from without merit. However, the club is quite clearly left with egg on its face today, and the supreme irony, that this defence of a racist – and, unless we’re going to retread that tired semantic argument about what some apparently perceive as a difference between somebody who is racist and somebody who merely ‘uses racist language,’ to describe Tuck as such remains an entirely reasonable response to his behaviour – came from a club which has allied itself so closely to the Help For Heroes charity, which itself has previously sought to distance itself from exactly the sort of organisation with which Tuck seemed to align himself, only compounds that matter. Any remaining vestiges of doubt concerning this wretched story have now been cleared. It is now up to the club to make a decision over whether to continue his employment after his short spell at her majesty’s pleasure comes to an end.
Ultimately, though, it is to be hoped that, if nothing else, lessons have been learnt from all of this. Footballers, both professional and semi-professionals, should be reminded that they are well rewarded for their talents and that with these rewards come a level of public exposure and, subsequently, responsibility. Footballers are, whether they like it or not, representatives of the clubs that they sign for, and these clubs are, in turn, representatives of the communities whose names they adopt. If Shaun Tuck’s story over the last couple of months or so does carry a message, then this message must be that, whilst the impulse to sound off on various subjects using social media may be strong, this medium is a public one and that private thoughts are probably best kept private if they are likely to cause offence. And at a time during which racial tensions are high, stupidity will not be considered as mitigating circumstances in the eyes of the law.
With regard to the player himself, it is to be hoped that this conviction and the opportunity to ruminate upon his behaviour grants him the opportunity to reconsider the repulsive views that he expressed. He is a talented player, of that there can be no doubt, and at twenty-seven years of age there is plenty of opportunity for him to rehabilitate himself. That decision, however is his and his alone. He can, should he choose to do so, wallow in the consequences of his actions, or he can look within himself and use this harsh warning as an opportunity to change. Ultimately, though, in all aspects of this story, the buck stops with him.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.