Kris Boyd: Man of Straw

by | Jan 28, 2020

Why deceive? Just… why do it? These are as pertinent a couple of questions now as they’ve ever been. Unfortunately, the answer nowadays is “Why not?” It worked for Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, elected leaders of the United Kingdom and States respectively with campaigns built on deception. So why NOT deceive on relatively microcosmic matters, such as what you said, live, on national television, last Wednesday?

Sky Sports football pundit Kris Boyd clearly thought why not, indeed?. On Friday, Boyd issued statement ”clarifying” remarks he made about Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, during what was supposed to be his post-match analysis of Celtic’s 3-1 Scottish Premiership win at Kilmarnock. But, like all statements containing the words “just to be perfectly clear,” it was nothing of the sort.

To briefly recap. On December 1st, Boyd gave Griffiths “four weeks to save his Celtic career” and implied that Griffiths should ask if he “could have done a bit more in training some days?” Griffiths had just returned to regular first-team contention after a year mostly out of football due to personal issues, including a battle against depression. This in itself made Boyd seem crass. What made his words worse was that in January 2018, he founded his own charity to help people with similar issues to Griffiths, in response to his own brother’s suicide.

Griffiths responded last Wednesday with a, literally, pointed celebration after scoring at Kilmarnock. This was directed at Boyd, who was stood on Sky’s TV gantry and, in turn, brought a response which dominated Boyd’s post-match analysis. THIS, in turn, brought widespread opprobrium, from fans and Celtic itself, and “a whopping 230” complaints to TV watchdog Ofcom, the Office of Communications. Boyd’s statement was the latest link in the response chain.

Boyd pleaded not to be accused of “belittling another man’s mental health issues like I couldn’t care less,” given his brother’s suicide and the “pain and suffering” which “still haunts me and my family each and every day.” He claimed his comments were about “Leigh’s mental strength in coping with criticism” not his mental health (“two totally different things”). And he said people were “wrong” to think he would “have a go” at Griffiths “for problems he’s gone through.”

At face value, Boyd’s plea was entirely reasonable. And Boyd’s “Rangers hero” status (copyright, the Sun newspaper for which he is a columnist) can attract OTT ire from Celtic fans. But he often deserves criticism. Even while a Kilmarnock player, he regularly called Rangers “we” during his punditry. And his suggestion that the last Celtic/Rangers game was “men against boys” belonged in a pub. Both were unprofessional conduct, as he was a paid broadcast journalist at the times. And his statement about Wednesday night bore next to no relation to the words for which he was condemned.

Boyd DID reference Griffiths’ methods of “coping with criticism.” He said: “Never mind coming for me. Go and do it for yourself. Score goals on a regular basis.” But the “whopping 230” complaints came from his genuinely “clear” suggestion that Griffiths played 34 league games out of Celtic’s previous 135 because he wasn’t “doing it on the training field.” He directly linked Griffiths’ absences to Brendan Rodgers becoming Celtic boss in 2016 and Celtic’s “professionalism, standards and training levels” going “through the roof,” implying that Griffiths became sub-standard.

These are, as Boyd rightly said, “two different things” (and only a cynic would argue that Boyd’s methods of “coping with criticism” showed less “mental strength” than Griffiths’).  But he commented on both. And Boyd was slated not particularly because his stats were wrong, after saying “you can’t argue with stats,” (Griffiths started 34 games but played in 71) but because he entirely overlooked Griffiths missing 25 games last season while battling depression. This, from the founder of a charity which specifically helps people like Griffiths, was execrable.

Boyd used a classic “straw man argument,” a response to and diversion from criticism through responding to criticisms not made. He wasn’t criticised for responding to Griffiths’ goal celebration last Wednesday. His “go and do it on the pitch” advice to Griffiths was sound (and is oft-given almost to the point of cliché).

It was because he did more than “belittle” Griffiths’ “mental health issues.” He discounted them entirely from an argument which, his use of stats showed, he had taken time to prepare. And whether a memory lapse or a more deliberate omission, this was unforgivable deception from the founder of a mental health awareness charity.

The Kris Boyd Charity – “Getting your head back in the game” can be contacted at:    @krisboydcharity