I have never been a fan of football in the UK. It has, for me, been too closely associated with racism and violence. Football (or soccer as it is called in the US) is a man’s game in the world outside the US. It brings men together and creates an atmosphere where they can bond and experience the rituals of battle in a safe atmosphere. It has been accepted as an essential part of British and European male culture.
Football has for years been mired in controversy and struggles to maintain its reputation. It is seen in Europe as home of racism and hooliganism. Much has, however, been done to try and sort out this nasty side of male domination. A campaign by the UK football authorities was started some years ago with a laudable aim,
If football is to be played and enjoyed equally by everyone, whatever the colour of their skin, and wherever they come from, it is up to us all, each and every one of us, to refuse to tolerate racist attitudes, and to demand nothing less than the highest standards in every area of the game.
The problems in the game have been less prominent in recent years until in the last couple of weeks when an appalling scandal has come to public notice. The nasty nature of the scandal along with its extent has caused the Chairman of The Football Association, the games’ governing body, to say about the crisis,
It’s certainly the biggest one I can remember. Institutionally, all organisations in the old days used to protect themselves by keeping quiet and closing ranks. That’s completely inappropriate and unacceptable today.
The crisis is about institutional sexual abuse of children, mainly boys, in football teams and the attempts over the years to cover it up.
The UK is still dealing with the after effects of the sexual abuse scandal centred around Jimmy Savile, the popular and famous TV star loved by children in his heyday. In ‘Jimmy Savile, Rape Culture and the Lessons for Us All’ I said,
It is power and privilege that allow some people to get away with rape and other sexual offences. This has nothing to do with being a man and everything to do with the exerting of power and control. We see this not just with celebrities, but with priests, with coaches and with teachers. It is the celebrities that get the attention, but the predator is often in a trusted position within the community if only because they organise that to get access to their prey, their victims—ordinary men, women and children.
This has proven to be the case in football where many accusations of sexual abuse by coaches of children in their teams are being investigated. There are many cases now being investigated by the police because of a flood of revelations being made by footballers. In the past they have stayed silent either through fear or because of pay-offs.
One well-known player, Derek Bell, now retired, has talked this week about how he was abused between the ages of 12 and 16. His abuser has been jailed over the offences but the footballer talked about how he wanted to take his own life over the shame.
I’ve come forward to raise awareness and help victims who are coming forward. I’ve been through the court system, I’ve been through different things, so if I can give people help and support … be brave, don’t be ashamed.
The shame felt by men as a victim of sexual abuse and rape by other men is an issue that men have always found difficult. The problem stems from the mistaken idea that this abuse is connected with homosexuality and the fear of being branded by homophobia. It is now accepted that it is about control and not connected with the sex of the victim.
Bell said when he came across his abuser later in life,
I was going to kill the guy. I thought, ‘no, I can’t live any more, everywhere I seem to go he’s there. This brought back all the memories to the forefront of my head, and I wanted to kill the guy. I went to his house with a 12-inch knife hidden in my pocket, and I kicked his door in. Luckily for him, that evening, he wasn’t in.
He later returned with a hidden tape recorder,
I just asked him the questions ‘Why, why, why?’ What was his motivation to find a need to constantly abuse me, threaten me, bribe me, befriend my family? And not one time did he say he was sorry. He just said ‘I don’t know why’. His main aim was ‘you’re not going to tell the police, are you?’
The shame and stigma with being a victim has been brought into sharp focus this week by the comments of a prominent professional darts player. Darts is another mainly male game. The player, Eric Bristow, has been quickly dumped by his sponsor, Sky Television, for suggesting that the victims should have stood up to their abusers. He tweeted,
Dart players tough guys footballers wimps. U got to sought him out when U get older or don’t look in the mirror glad i am a dart player proper men.
He exposed what too many people think, that men should be men and take revenge on their abusers. The idea is that that would sort the problem out, whereas it just perpetuates the culture of domination, control and violence.
Why does all this matter? Only a couple of weeks ago in ‘Sex and Power—Do They Really Go Together?’ I said,
Sex is too often about power and dominance rather than simple enjoyment.
It seems to me that most institutions of power, and that means power by men, are tainted by the scandal of sexual abuse and exploitation. I have spoken about television and football, but this famously includes the Catholic Church as well. It appears that the domination of children has been widely accepted by men in power. The pathetic need to control children, whether boys or girls, demonstrates monumental inadequacy in those men. This destroys the heart of what, for most men, it means to be a man. Strength, authority, call it what you will, has been used for as long as we know by men to maintain their ability to control.
Image Credit: Flickr/Greg Walters (Creative Commons)