An American View of the Suárez/Evra/FA Debacle

[Note from the Editors: The Bunk was fined £40,000 and suspended from blogging for eight weeks by the Football Association for writing this column. Read at your peril.]

Solidarité, bitches. Photo from Getty Images

Your correspondent would like you to try a thought experiment.

For a moment, let’s concede that Luis Suárez said some naughty words to Patrice Evra in front of the Kop on 15 October 2011. Whether he actually did or not, and whether anything was lost in translation of language and cultural context, is irrelevant.

Let’s also concede that the FA’s “zero tolerance approach” towards anything smelling of racism is a good idea. Whether it is a good idea in practice is highly questionable given the unintended consequences of such policies when they have been attempted in the past, such as in American state school systems. But we will set that aside for a moment.

The Football Association has thoroughly botched its attempt to get tough on racism, which should come as no surprise because the FA rivals only FIFA and the International Olympic Committee for incompetence and structural dysfunction.

Would it have been difficult to announce, 48 hours prior to a specific weekend’s Premier League action, that the riot act would be read to any footballer found to have engaged in anything even resembling racist abuse? A simple one-page memorandum to the Premier League clubs would have given the FA all of the political cover it needs to levy substantial bans and financial penalties to guilty players. No club, whether it was Liverpool, Chelsea, or anyone else, would have a leg to stand on.

Is that too much to ask of the FA? Of course it is. The fact that a player can be found guilty and suspended for a fifth of the season without any evidence other than the statement of a man known not to be credible in these matters is all the more reason for the FA to announce its disciplinary stance ahead of time. Instead they chose to make an example out of someone as if that player and his club would not raise hell about it, exposing the FA’s incompetence and arbitrary, capricious decision making at every turn. Any club would have raised the same objections Liverpool is doing right now, no matter what the twitterverse and the lobotomized UK print media says to the contrary.

What’s that you say? The FA appointed an “independent panel” to review the case and hand down a verdict? That’s nice. I enjoy your innocent outlook on the world. At the end of the day any independent body, whether it is a central bank, the judiciary, or an ad hoc disciplinary panel, must not only be functionally independent but also have the appearance of being independent to have public credibility. The fact that Manchester United executives sit on the FA board makes the appearance of independence impossible for the FA itself or for any ostensibly neutral outside panel it appoints.

I will make this simple appeal to anyone in the U.K. who happens to stumble upon this accidentally whilst trying to arrange the evening’s complement of internet pornography: Learn from the mistakes of ‘Merica. Please don’t fall into our trap of mindless, overreacting political correctness and the stupid politics of symbolism over substance. In ‘Merica, we expel teenage students from their schools on account of having ibuprofen in their bookcases. We charge underage fornicators as the perpetrators and victims of the same “crime”, and high-level bureaucrats are sacked for saying words that are phonetically similar to, but etymologically distinct from, naughty racist words. All on account of “zero tolerance”.

Zero tolerance policies are always exposed as mindless imitations of due process and justice. The complete absence of anything like nuance, exigent circumstances, or, y’know, evidence merely allows the regulator not to expend scarce brainpower having to think about stuff. Who cares if life plays itself out in shades of gray? We’ll just pretend everything is black and white, what could possibly go wrong?

/pop-up Facebook chat window flies open

Patrice Evra: ÇA C’EST RACISTE!

The Bunk: Wha?

Evra: THASS RAYCESS!!

The Bunk: Patrice what on earth are you talking about?

Evra: I saw what you wrote, disparaging all black people you horrible bigot.

The Bunk: Patrice, that’s a figurative term of speech, it has no racial connotations at all…

Evra: RACISTE! I’m going to tell Sir Alex on you!

The Bunk: Please don’t do that, Patrice.

Evra: I don’t want to hear it.

/puts fingers in ears

The Bunk: But Pat-

Evra: NANANANA NOT LISTENING TO YOU!

The Bunk: Goddamn it Patrice.

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