After all that, it came to nothing. Premier League chief Richard Scudamore has escaped punishment for the sexist comments he made in a series of private emails, despite the best efforts of figures within politics, sport and the equality industry to see him out of a job.
Sports minister Helen Grant had branded his comments “completely unacceptable”, and Labour’s Clive Efford wrote to the FA and the Premier League, urging action. All to no avail. The FA declined to punish Scudamore — quite rightly, since it doesn’t employ him — and the Premier League has followed suit.
It would be easy to notch this one up as a rare victory for common sense. But it’s worth dwelling on for a moment, because the next public figure to incur the wrath of the morality police is surely just around the corner.
It is not enough merely to cheer when the enemies of free speech lose, and dismay when they win. It’s important to understand why they are wrong and to rehearse the arguments against them.
Until this scandal broke, Richard Scudamore had presented himself as a champion of equality, and nothing in his professional life contradicted that image.
So why should a few laddish, off-the-record comments have suddenly rendered him unsuitable to do his job? Because they were offensive? So what? Scudamore didn’t broadcast them over the tannoy at a Premier League ground; he put them in emails to a friend that he never expected to be published. To judge him on his private comments, rather than his work record, would be like judging a chef on the junk he cooks at home, instead of what he serves in his restaurant.
Whenever such stories arise, there is always talk of “calls for action” and “pressure mounting”, but you never see any million-man protest marches on their way to Downing Street. The only pressure comes from figures in the public eye and from a professional caring class that considers itself the conscience of the nation.
The views that Scudamore expressed might be unutterable to these preening ninnies, but they’re nothing you won’t hear in pubs, homes and workplaces up and down the country. I’ve no doubt that most women understand this and attribute it to male stupidity, without feeling offended or oppressed. They understand that how people treat each other in person is more important than the thoughts they might express in private.
As far as members of the caring class are concerned, however, there is never a place for off-message banter or ironic joshing. Theirs is a world of po-faced puritanism, where it’s all business, all the time. I dare say that off-colour thoughts occasionally cross their minds, but that’s okay, because they possess the intellectual refinement to deal with them. But the man in the street? Forget about it. If he thinks it’s acceptable to refer to women in a derogatory way, he’s on a slippery slope to becoming a wolf-whistling Neanderthal, and perpetuating the culture of discrimination.
Scudamore’s work record is of no account to his critics, because they don’t live in a results-centric universe. There is only a market for their ‘skills’ if their peer group invents one, meaning the standards expected of them are very different from those understood by the rest of society.
In their psychobabble bubble, there are no positive or negative consequences for meeting, or failing to meet, public demand, so the real-world effects of their actions matter not. What counts are the opinions they hold, and if the group decides that a commitment to equality is good, and un-egalitarian thoughts are bad, then that’s how it will judge people, irrespective of their other deeds.
If you are detached from reality, then equality of outcome makes a strange kind of sense. If you value opinions over deeds, then prejudicial thoughts will concern you more than unbiased actions. And if you are immune to the effects of your decisions, there is no measure so pointless, harmful or illiberal that you won’t recommend it — especially if it is done in the name of equality.
Thus, when Richard Scudamore’s incriminating emails came to light, they trumped all other considerations, being far more significant than the trifling matter of his actual conduct towards others. Losing his job was the bare minimum he should have expected for his crime — an opinion echoed by no less than the Prime Minister, who declared that no member of his cabinet would have survived the chop under similar circumstances.
None of this is to say that those baying for Scudamore’s blood are hapless victims of groupthink. This is certainly a factor in entrenching their attitudes, but those attitudes must already exist in order to be entrenched.
If the shoe had been on the other foot, and it had been female chief executive who’d been caught making sexist comments about men, there would have been no such hullabaloo, because it would be assumed that the nation’s menfolk deserve a bit of stick to make up for the mistreatment doled out to women over the years.
Whatever the merits of that opinion, a devotion to sexual equality isn’t one of them. But, then again, egalitarianism in practice has never been about treating people equally. It’s about settling scores and avenging grievances.
As far as our moral entrepreneurs are concerned, the greatest problem in the world today is not poverty or prejudice — they are merely symptoms of a greater injustice — it’s that the ‘wrong’ people are in charge.
Scudamore’s crime was not just to have expressed verboten thoughts, but to have represented a social order that rewards people for satisfying the freely-expressed interests of others, rather than letting the losers, the gripers and the poseurs pick our winners.
That’s why these free speech stories are not just about over-sensitive people trying to punish erroneous opinions. They’re about the kind of society we live in, and the kind of people who set the agenda.