The court’s have spoken. John Terry was not guilty of deliberate racial misconduct. Instead of it being the last word on the matter, it has ignited a firestorm as many anti-racism campaigners and black footballers, current and former, have spoken out about their dismay and distrust of the verdict. Our position has been that the evidence was largely circumstantial and the prosecution could not clearly establish a racial context.
However, it is clear in the wake of the court’s decision, Terry’s presence will continue to inflame race relations not just in football but in England. From Lord Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out urging the FA to re-examine the racism charge, Rio Ferdinand’s re-tweeting the derogatory “Choc Ice” to describe Ashley Cole as a sell out, and to Duwayne Brooks, a close friend of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, calling the result BS, it is clear that this has reopened many wounds across a swathe of English society. Even on a less polarized level, the court case exposed the virulent language used by footballers today, and more so, in the case of Terry, who the Daily Mail, in a typical dim witted piece berating political correctness, called a “foul mouthed philanderer.”
Rio Ferdinand’s reaction is probably the most relevant one. Those are the peers, Terry is going to come in contact with. In this world, Cole was the backstabbing Brutus, who testified in favour of his white Captain and thereby became an Uncle Tom. His over the top characterization, undoubtedly, driven by a personal stake in his brother being denied justice. But it brings to the fore the politics of guilt by association. It is not just Terry, the central figure, but those who choose to defend him despite their colour, become guilty of racism. Fitz Hall, Cameron Jerome, and Garth Crooks have also been vocal in their dismay at how the court ruled. Jerome’s dismissing robbing a bank as banter after the court seemingly sided on “black f**king c**t as a form of slagging suggests all manner of perverted behaviour could be tolerated on the pitch. It also suggests there is no closure to the sort of mental gyrations Roy Hodgson resorted to keep Rio Ferdinand out of the 2012 Euro squad as every other available partner to Terry fell victim to injuries.
We crossed the Rubicon on Friday. The more comfortable and charitable description of Terry as a “foul mouthed philanderer” just transformed into a more sinister one. Chelsea, a lightning rod for those who bemoan financial doping as having poisoned the sport could become a lightning rod for those intolerant of racial abuse for harbouring Terry. Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool had to endure a damaging PR debacle for weeks with their head in the sand defense of Luis Suarez before better sense prevailed. On a more practical level, what else does Terry play for? He’s received every accolade possible from Premiership to Champions League level medals en route to being considered rightly so as one of England’s best defenders and a club legend. If he hangs up his boots, he returns the conversation to that legacy, and not the one that is presently muddying it up badly for him.