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The football lad is not for burning

30 May 2014

UNLIKE the Middle Ages, we are now officially against sexism, racism, and homophobia. So why do we still slavishly follow that era's passion for witch-hunts?

The Premier League chief, Richard Scudamore, is on the ropes. By the time you read this, he may have fallen from the punches. If he is still standing, he will certainly be battered and bruised. And why? Because he forwarded a sexist joke, and replied to two others. Suddenly, all he's done counts for nothing - and he has done a great deal.

Under his stewardship, England's Premier League has become the most commercially successful football league in the world. But the sky has been falling in on his head since a former employee exposed his emails to public view. And football now has a new competition: "Who can take the most offence?"

"Right now," Martin Samuel writes in the Mail, "a cabal of the useless, the over-promoted, and professionally outraged appear to be in league against him, egged on by the people who could not beat him in a fair fight so now see the chance to defeat him with his hands tied.

"Every mediocre administrator, politician and professional committee clock-puncher is piling in on this one: Rabbatts, Horne, Dyke, Helen Grant, Lord Triesman, and a gentleman called Edward Lord whose CV reads like a brief history of time-serving. They're all jostling for position, competing to be the most offended now."

It is not just the jokes that have caused offence, but the dissonance between his public and private face. Publicly, Mr Scudamore is promoting more gender-inclusive sport. Privately, he appears as a small-time office misogynist. So what are we to do? What a lot of people are doing is gleefully laying faggots around the stake in preparation for a public burning. He's a witch, he's a witch!

Proportion and honesty seem important here. Drawing from our internal front room, nicely furnished for public scrutiny, we say and do the "right" things; but aware that we also possess a basement, a different room - with gloomier light, and not the place for guests - where the less beautiful aspects of our lives are played out and acknowledged.

So we learn to be proportionate, to allow both front room and basement, to allow light and shadow; for, if we ever forget our basement, we are liable to become absurd and judgemental when faced with the basements of others.

So we pause for thought. Joan of Arc was made a saint in 1920, 570 years after being burnt at the stake as a witch. Mr Scudamore will never be made a saint, but should he be made a witch? History suggests that witch-hunters threaten the truth much more than those whom they burn.

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