Note to footballers: doing the right thing is more than a PR job

The Ched Evans farrago is the logical conclusion of a mind-set that sees morality only in terms of image
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It's not the sexism, misogyny, homophobia and racism in football that gets you down. It's not even the fact that people in football think such things are perfectly all right. It's the way that football seems genuinely bewildered by the suggestion that it's possible to have reservations. And so yet another scandal breaks out: another set of wince-making comments/texts/tweets/emails – and always the response from football is the same.

Frightfully sorry and all that but we just can't see what all the fuss is about. You're objecting to remarks that denigrate women, yes? And to remarks stating or implying that certain races are inferior to our own? And also –heavy sigh – to remarks that show intolerance of homosexuals? Have I got that right? I have?

Then I don't get it. What's your problem?

Hard to know where to start in reply. Perhaps at Malky Mackay, last week hired to manage Wigan Athletic. He was sacked from his previous job at Cardiff City a year ago after a series of remarkably offensive texts were made public. Not that they were intended to be offensive: just casual messages that reflect footballing life. Jokes, you know. Hahaha. Don't black people, women, gay and Chinese people have a sense of humour?

Mackay is currently under investigation by the Football Association for these texts. "I personally don't see what there is to investigate," said Dave Whelan, Wigan's owner. His local MP, Lisa Nandy suggested that there were issues arising from this case, but Whelan was having none of it. "She's not a Wigan lass, so she doesn't understand football."

Translation: she's not part of football, so she doesn't understand that Mackay's utterances are perfectly acceptable: part of footballing culture. Whelan went on to clarify his position: to talk about Jews "chasing money" is not offensive but accurate, and anyway Chinese people don't mind being called "Chinks".

Recently Rio Ferdinand – who likes to pose as the wise man of football –addressed a piece of criticism on Twitter by suggesting that the critic's mother was promiscuous. He then enlarged the national vocabulary by adding the word "sket"; no doubt soon to appear in The Times crossword. He was fined £25,000 and banned for three matches. His manager at Queens Park Rangers, Harry Redknapp was asked if Ferdinand's comments were as serious as a two-footed tackle. "It doesn't equate. I can't see it."

Meanwhile, Gary Lineker – normally a person with a little perspective – said that Ferdinand's punishment was "ridiculously harsh… a little warning should suffice."

What? The FA too tough on sexism? Bit of a change from last May, then. That's when the FA's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, found a series of his sexist emails on the front page of the Sunday Mirror. As jokes they would be heavy-handed in a men-only bar; as part of professional dealings, they were grotesque.

And yet Scudamore is still in his job, because this is football and in football such things don't really matter. Not really. Only if the sponsors object, and then you call in the PR people and they will put everything right. Until the next time.

That's obviously not true of every individual in football: but it's certainly the prevailing moral wind. Football no longer even tries to do what's right: it tries to do what looks right. It doesn't look after its soul, it looks after its image. When the next scandal emerges, the culprit will read out an apology penned by a PR person, the subtext of which is: "If I'd only known people were so stupid/touchy/neurotic/unrealistic, I'd have been more careful."

Where does all this lead? To Sheffield, where else? Ched Evans was welcomed back to Sheffield United to train after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape. Not everyone was happy about this. It's a slightly awkward one, because we're all in favour of the rehabilitation of offenders, are we not? Except that Evans is not rehabilitated. He doesn't even think he has offended, despite being found guilty and being refused an appeal.

He admits that he had sex with a teenage girl who had consumed two large glasses of white wine, four double vodkas and a sambuca, who was seen stumbling on CCTV as she left the bar where she had been carousing with Evans and who told the court she had no memory of what took place. How could anyone in his right mind find anything inappropriate in all that? To some Evans is a hero: what Mackay, Scudamore and Ferdinand suggested in mere language, Evans put into action.

So now he sees himself as the victim. The woman he raped had her identity exposed on Twitter. She moved, changed names and then had her new identity exposed. But by the moral code that football endorses, she is the villain of the piece. Sheffield United stopped Evans training with them last Thursday: a decision that smacks more of PR damage-limitation than moral conviction. The club's co-chairman Jim Phipps said he was "angry and upset" by Evans's departure.

Football is now so enormous in terms of power and wealth and media sycophancy that football people no longer believe they have to abide by morals of society. They believe – apparently quite genuinely – that society should adapt to the moral code of football. Apparently racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia are – contrary to popular belief – perfectly all right, and it's high time society cottoned on.

The football industry is inclined to see morality as something to do with public relations; and those that get it wrong and get censured/fined/banned/sacked are seen as victims. The bulk of football really doesn't understand that there are larger issues at stake than PR. The case of Ched Evans is not so much an exception as the logical conclusion.

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