Micro-sociologist Erving Goffman’s theory of back-region behaviour is, by definition, about how human beings exhibit certain private habits and opinions that must stay hidden from the front-region presentation of their selves. Tell that to Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys. Once again, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, high-profile public figures are hoisted by their own very public, mediated petard.
But let’s get things into perspective. Several years ago ITV Sport rightly forced out pundit Ron Atkinson for making racist remarks on air, likewise unintentionally but within reach of a stray microphone.
The sexist remarks made by Gray and Keys, while clearly offensive and in this case actually inaccurate (assistant referee Sian Massey has an excellent officiating record and made a great call not to raise her flag in the lead-up to the first Liverpool goal against Wolves during the match in question), were not especially derogatory, nor were they criminally offensive. Racist attitudes have been rightly criminalised; but sexist attitudes free of harrassment, while morally wrong, should not be deemed illegal or sufficient grounds for gross misconduct (i.e. sacking an employee) in my view.
Self-policing and self-regulation are always preferable to big-brother-style, nanny-state, pseudo-dictatorships telling us what is right and wrong, and catering to every whim in the name of censorship. So it’s sad to see Gray, a New-Lad-archetype, often controversial commentator who speaks his mind, sacked by Sky – though it does appear that an earlier incident last December involving Sky presenter Charlotte Jackson was a more serious breach of decent sexual behaviour.
UPDATE 26/1: As a corollary to this case, Alastair Campbell’s point that the decision to dismiss Gray may have been to do with his legal action against the News Corp-owned News of the World over suspected phone-tapping adds a layer of intrigue to the saga. Gray is currently consulting with his lawyers about whether to file a charge of unfair dismissal – and he may tow this conflict-of-interests line in any future court-case.
Note too the Referees Association’s decision to withdraw Massey from the Crewe-Bradford match last night. Clearly a huge media presence was readying itself at Gresty Road – but there will be an equally huge entourage of photographers and camera operators at the next match she officiates, so a relatively quiet Tuesday-night League Two affair may have been the best opportunity to quell the media fire (never underestimate media amplification, especially where novelty is involved). Of course, the RA has an axe to grind and wants to make the maximum impact it can in its backlash against Gray/Keys/Sky Sports/anti-referee media sentiment generally, but is the RA doing Massey any good by delaying her return? (A return she will be all too pleased to get out of the way!) Is macho-masculinity exercising muscle against itself, to the detriment of progressive femininity?