Friday, February 5, 2010

The John Terry Affair (why we should, and shouldn't care)

John Terry's found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons - cheating on his wife with the girlfriend of a teammate. The Final Third defends the defender - pointing out the inevitability of Terry's public disgrace, coming as it does after months being built up as a media darling. 
The grandstanding over Terry's affair is a lot of stuff and nonsense. Most of these players have been raised by football itself, which is, especially in England, a deeply regressive patriarchal space that can't imagine women as anything but ornamentation, things look at and to use. The media is perhaps the worst culprit on this issue. Such rhetoric masks the degree to which it in fact embraces and celebrates sexism and machismo in football, and reproduces the assumption that football can't in fact survive without it.  Terry is sacrificed here, in a seasonal rite washing an entire culture of its responsibility in making the world worse.

Let's put such media attention to Terry in perspective by glancing quickly at a few of cases in which women athletes have been disciplined for their behavior.

Darnellia Russell was a nationally ranked high school basketball player when she sued her state athletic association so that she could play with her team during her last year, the year when she would be scouted to play NCAA ball. Why had they barred her from the court? Because she had a baby. She won the suit (ever heard of a male athlete banned from a sport for the same reason?). The whole process was such a scandal to athletics organizations, however, she never got that college scholarship. No school would touch her – although she took her team to a state championship and played even better post-pregnancy than before. (A male player of her caliber might have been drafted right into the NBA – the rules for female athletes & the WNBA on this point are different.) Her story is profiled in the wonderful documentary, Heart of the Game.

In January, 1995, the BBC aired a documentary about the Doncaster Belles, the dominant women’s team in the country and also the longest continuously running women’s club in the UK. After the documentary aired, the FA kicked a number of their players off the national team and removed the captaincy from Gill Coultard. Why? Because these working class footballers, uhm, were shown going to their local pub – DRINKING, and SWEARING! Not behavior suitable for a “ladies team.” (Let’s bear in mind that none of these women received any money ever for playing football.) The FA's chief executive wrote that the documentary was
regrettable in its content and timing, unacceptable for its language and behavior and a disincentive to parents and teachers.  (See Pete Davies's I Lost My Heart to the Belles.)
After that, the team was afraid to be interviewed or filmed.
Hope Solo was banned from the US lineup for months, and pilloried for speaking out after a WC match about her confidence that she could have played better than her teammate had in a crucial match (Brianna Scurry had been placed in goal, although Solo had been performing brilliantly – Scurry gave up 3 – or was it 4?). She wasn’t allowed into even the stands to support her teammates in the 3rd place match, she was made to fly home on a different plane, and scapegoated in the press.

Women athletes are expected to play in an airless space. They are supposed to be so grateful for the mere opportunity to play, that they are required to play along. They are expected to be virtuous in all regards. They are expected to be polite, and humble; heterosexual but not too sexual; chaste and self-effacing.  This is why so much marketing around women's sports is so repulsive - as if guided by a conduct book for girls, written in the 1850s.

I wish for more peccadillos for all athletes! Regardless of the genders of either the athlete, the spouse, or the lover!


  1. excellent points. I'd also add the outrage over Serena William's US Open outburst. Esp when compared to John MacEnroe.

  2. I appreciate your pointing out the double-standards of how athletes of different genders are treated. But I wonder if this situation would have been bad no matter the sex of the player. I agree that the sexist examples you highlight are all travesties, but the story of Terry Affair's is much simpler. First, I agree that the world of football does "celebrate sexism and machismo" but what is at issue with Terry is that his peccadilloes involved a teammate when he was his captain. Team cohesion was at stake and nothing else. If Terry had been an average footballer and not Captain of the national squad and one of the best teams in the EPL we wouldn't be talking about it. Footballers drink, fight and pick-up women (regardless of their marital status), a lower middle-class ideal of manhood that many (especially the English) accept in their male heroes. Boys will be boys. And I believe that it is an attitude that is slowly working it's way out of the footballing community, not because it is unacceptable, but because the physical stamina and intense concentration required to play at the top level year after year makes this sort of behavior counter-productive to a long and profitable career.

  3. female english football fanMarch 7, 2010 at 4:55 AM

    "Most of these players have been raised by football itself, which is, especially in England, a deeply regressive patriarchal space that can't imagine women as anything but ornamentation, things look at and to use."

    Seeing as you are so hot on prejudice, I'd like to see you justify this sweeping pile of bigoted cack.

  4. Football culture in England is probably no worse than some of its European partners - but I will say my time in England was a real eye-opener. I have a lot to say about daily experiences of sexism around foootball in England - and have loads of entries on this blog about that - but my comment in this post is not about ordinary people. It's about the boys and young men playing and working in the upper levels of the development system.

    If you can find a good example which demonstrate that spaces and organizations are terrific places for women, and nurture a feminist consciousness in the men and and women within them - and teach the boys playing in the system to respect and honor women as colleagues, I'd love to hear it.

    Perhaps - Vik Akers & Arsenal? I imagine he and the women on the team have had a big impact on the working space of the organization - I would hope so at least.

    Anyway, I stand by my point.

  5. and then we have the Canadian Womenls hockey team celebrating their gold medal with *gasp* champagne and cigars

  6. relatively new to this site, but the article on sam gordon was inspiring and led me to this which i absolutely agree with. just to add that the lack of money in the women's game is its biggest obstacle but at the same time, maintains the purity of the sport that professionalism has killed. the english FA are the biggest hypocrites around and your comment about rite washing is spot on. the latest example being of course hazard's kicking of the ball boy.


Feedback? Let me know what you think. Just an FYI: all comments posted to this blog are recorded, whether I publish them or not. I do not publish generally hateful comments - whether they be directed at me or at players and teams or other readers. I appreciate reader feedback, especially from those whose contributions add nuance and complexity to the story.

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