My mind has shifted and readjusted many times this past week as I reflected on those sexist comments of Andy Gray and Richard Keys before they commentated on the Liverpool/Wolves soccer game last weekend. Their comments about Sian Massey, the female assistant referee, not knowing the offside rule was most certainly prejudiced but my first reaction was caused by the stupidity of the remarks. The truth is that to be given the job of assistant referee in the best soccer league in the world Sian Massey had to come through some serious scrutiny and have shown some professional aptitude to get the gig. My question was how did Gray and Keys not know this journey from under 12 Saturday morning League to here? Was all their other soccer punditry as lacking in knowledge as this? Or did they think that Ms Massey would somehow forget all she’d learned and lose all her experience simply because of gender?
I don’t think so. What has happened here is that to fill the gaps in conversation Gray and Keys involved themselves in some meaningless, throwaway attempts to be humorous. You wonder how many soccer fans all over the UK made similar seemingly inane jibs when they heard that a girl was “running the line.” Should they all be sacked? Gray and Keys were not on air let us not forget!
No, sacking was harsh and Keys might be right that some other dark forces were at work BUT that doesn’t mean that the sexist comments themselves were not something of a dark force! I remember my Presbyterian students talking about how they got on so well with the Catholics in their schools or communities and seeing that as progress before realising that the comment meant that they were constantly dividing their class or their community into Catholics and Protestants! Whether a throwaway joke or not, Gray and Keys did raise our inherent sexism!
New Testament writers speak a lot about the tongue and words we say. They might seem a little pedantic on first reading, almost minor teaching. It was for moments like these they were written. What the Christian writers are concerned about is our objectifying or demonising of the other! That is exactly what Gray and Keys and whoever else were making loose comments about Sian Massey were involved in. It does not create a healthy community. I know that my own soul has been chastised by this news item. Asking my friend Tim whether we were involved in the stereotype cheap joke he assured me that we weren’t sexist BUT ageist as we wondered if Sian was old enough to be out on her own! I suppose what I have taken from this new overdose has been to be careful of even my throwaway private comments as they betray something deeper.
A final preach however! There has been an incredible hypocrisy about all of this sexism, highlighted by headlines in the Sun tabloid. Come on. Could daily exploitation of woman half naked not be doing a little more damage to women than a moment of Andy Gray male stupidity. And if Gray should get sacked for something off air how many should get sacked for the abuse of women to sell every product you can think of during half time breaks! Gray and Keys have highlighted a sexist society but more than their heads will have to role if we are to give woman back the dignity that their humanity demands!