Friday 18 August 2017

Sinead Kissane: Reducing Moyes' comments to banter is playing a losing game

Sunderland manager David Moyes threatened to
Sunderland manager David Moyes threatened to "slap" a female reporter following an interview

Snead Kissane

So you can't threaten to slap them or hit on them in interviews. Poor David Moyes and Chris Gayle, it must get so confusing in the high-pressure world of pro sport when you're being interviewed by a female reporter.

Last year Gayle tried to hit on reporter Mel McLaughlin in the romantic setting of a live TV interview at a cricket game in Australia. This week Moyes was charged by the FA for comments made to BBC Sport reporter Vicki Sparks which were allegedly "improper and/or threatening and/or brought the game into disrepute". Moyes has until next Wednesday to reply to the charge.

After Sunderland's 0-0 draw with Burnley on March 18, Moyes was asked by Sparks if he felt under more pressure because the Sunderland owner was at the game. "No, none at all," Moyes replied. The interview finished but the camera recorded Moyes' follow-up comments to Sparks: "You were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there. So just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you're a woman... Careful the next time you come in."

The defendants for Moyes would argue that his comments were not sexist because he would probably say the same thing to a male reporter so what's all the fuss about. And so began a wait to see if any male reporter would pipe up and cool down this issue by confirming Moyes threatened to slap him too.

Lest we forget lads, this is the Premier League, where men are men and women must put up or shut up in an environment where normal social behaviour rules don't apply.

Seeing as no male reporter has publicly come forward, is it now ok to stop viewing this incident solely through the prism of "he would say the same thing to a male reporter".

And this isn't about Moyes and whether he had any actual intent to slap Sparks, this is about the implication behind words which tried to intimidate and threaten a person in the workplace.

In what context do we usually say the word "naughty"? It's probably more generally used by a parent to a kid to try to discipline them. When it's used by one adult to another it reeks of an attempt to undermine them for behaviour which is not tolerated in their ego-driven world. Maybe Moyes felt he could use that word to Sparks because he did not rank her as an equal in the workplace. But how silly of us to even question that - of course she's not his equal, she's just a pesky reporter asking questions which left him feeling uncomfortable and he wasn't going to let that pass without the sweetener of a condescending threat.

Can you imagine him saying using the word "naughty" or threaten to slap or warn someone like Sky Sports reporter Geoff Shreeves? No, me neither. The main alibi for incidents like this is an old reliable: banter. Banter has its very own exclusion zone where anything goes because it's just thrash talk between mates and, really, is there anything more unattractive than a stuck-up bore who takes offence when all you were doing was 'having the craic'.

It seems some banter is above that concept widely known as evolution. When the terms of reference of a conversation is banter, the apparent bargain is you can be prehistoric and roll around in s**t you generally wouldn't get away with because, Christ, it really can be a pain trying to be a grown-up all the time.

The comments Moyes made to Sparks were not banter. This did not take place between mates down at the local. It happened in the workplace between a Premier League manager and a reporter. It is generally at this point that a reminder is put out questioning how you would react if your daughter/sister/mother/wife/girlfriend came home and told you about a similar conversation she had with her boss at work. Would you laugh and tell her to cop on to herself and that it was only a bit of banter? Didn't think so.

How Sparks reacted has also been used as evidence that Moyes wasn't serious with his comments as she could be heard laughing. It might surprise some to know that laughing along doesn't always mean you agree with something. I don't know Sparks, I don't know what she was thinking. But I do know from general experience that laughing can be a way to defuse a situation you didn't see coming.

Would you rather if the after-burn was different - if Sparks broke down in tears? Would that validate the intimidation levels a bit more for those who use the cop-out that it was just a bit of banter?

When the footage appeared, Moyes rang Sparks to apologise. He also apologised publicly and said the remarks were made in the "heat of the moment". But, sometimes, the "heat of the moment" can be when we show our true colours, it's when the filter button has been left off.

Also less stable is the argument that Moyes' comments were a "generational" thing, that people's behaviour at a certain age should be excused because that wasn't the culture they were brought up in. So, it's ok for kids and teenagers to be shown what's right but when we reach a certain age unacceptable behaviour is more forgiveable because it wasn't what we were taught growing up? That just doesn't wash.

Those who rage against the world becoming too politically correct don't appear to want to recognise that behaviour which belittles a woman in her work doesn't need to be written in sweepstakes red letters for everyone to immediately compute it as unacceptable.

Also, if you're bored of sexism being called out, you're bored of evolution and progression for women. It is the everyday flippant remarks which also need to be highlighted, like what that beacon of equality Richard Keyes once said about Karren Brady and sexism in football: "See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love."

It's not just what is said. But the implication behind it which also matters.

Irish Independent

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