Banter - noun - the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks: there was much good-natured banter. (Oxford Dictionaries)
This is the definition a quick internet search brings up for 'banter', the horrible colloquial term that has slithered its way into the modern lexicon. That the word is synonymous with the likes of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, the disgraced/disgraceful football show presenters, and their odious brand of 'lad culture' tells its own tale.
In what way do the racist text messages alleged to have been sent by Malky Mackay fit this definition? It's difficult, no, impossible to see how. Nevertheless, this is what the League Managers Association will have us believe after they released what can at best be described as an ill-advised statement - at worst, it is a catastrophic PR disaster - in the wake of Wednesday's revelations in a national newspaper.
Mackay admitted via the LMA that he was responsible for two of the messages that were "disrespectful of other cultures", or, as other, more well-adjusted people might call it, racist. For the record, he absolutely refutes making the other sexist and homophobic slurs highlighted by the documents sent to the FA by Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan. Good on him.
You can peruse the list of messages and wonder to your heart's content which of them may or may not have come from Mackay's phone, but the plain fact screaming out at any rational person is that any one of the exchanges listed by the Daily Mail is simply unacceptable. The paper carries more details about the authorship of the messages on Friday.
And none of them can, or should, be classed as mere 'friendly banter'. To do so is dismissive, disrespectful and just plain wrong. To banter, to joke with mates in a good-humoured way, to exchange light teasing remarks, surely requires the recipient of the slights to be present. They must have the chance to respond, to complete the trade of hilarious insults. There is also an argument that for something to be classed as 'banter', the person who the abuse is directed at has to find it amusing. Mackay and Moody's messages fail on both counts.
"It's just banter" is rapidly becoming the get-out-of-jail card played by Neanderthals when their embarrassingly prehistoric views get some airtime. But it's nothing more than a sorry excuse for the kind of casual racism that is still prevalent in football, as this episode lamentably highlights.
As far as PR exercises go, the LMA's terribly worded statement could not have been much worse. Yet the use of 'banter' in a professional context is just one of many aspects of the release that rankles.
There is reference to Mackay feeling under "great pressure" at the time of sending the messages, when he was just "letting off steam". Being a Premier League manager is surely one of the most stressful jobs out there, but can that really be used as an excuse for making racist comments? The inference is that racism is excusable under certain circumstances.
It also leaves open the possibility that other managers - who like Mackay operate in pressure cooker situations - are up to the same thing. It hints at an institutional problem, rather than just two unenlightened idiots 'having a laugh' with some offensive 'bants'. And given the LMA's job is to represent all managers, not just the ones who indulge in such behaviour, to word the statement as such represents a pretty calamitous blunder.
It goes on... Mackay's comments were, according to the LMA, "with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable". Yet how is it that hindsight is needed to realise that the texts were a bad idea? Was there a stage at which they weren't offensive but have somehow become so between the time they were typed out and now?
Anyway, the LMA was at pains to point out that as an organisation, it "does not condone in any way any potential breach of equal opportunities laws" which is great, but considering there is not a single black manager in English professional football at the moment, perhaps it is not the best time to be describing racist jokes as 'banter'.
Meanwhile, Mackay might well have cause to be aggrieved about the timing of these revelations - he could be forgiven for thinking that Vincent Tan is on some kind of revenge mission; given the efforts of the Malaysian tycoon in his investigations over transfer dealings, it can easily be interpreted that way - but to seek to justify his remarks in a statement that carries a palpably defensive tone is lamentable.
The LMA is a decent, honest organisation with a highly commendable brief to look after its members in the ruthlessly cut-throat business of football management. In few other, if any, professions do employees find themselves in quite so much danger of losing their job in a world where their futures rest on the whims of a trigger-happy chairmen or the mood of public opinion.
The LMA provides a worthy and necessary service for football managers. Sadly though, its reaction to this episode does nothing but undermine its reputation.
- Eurosport staff
- Society & Culture
- Arts & Entertainment
- Malky Mackay