Written by Jen Offord

Health

A bleak week for football

Jen Offord tells us how the Adam Johnson trial and its fallout have further damaged the reputation of the sport she loves.

the-ball-488716_1920 (2)Ordinarily when I’m writing up my sporty shiz for Standard Issue, I’m lolling all the way to my sent box, but today I just feel a bit sad, actually, for a bleak few days it has been.

Let me take you back to the middle of last month at Bradford Crown Court where Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson pleaded guilty to grooming a child, as well as one count of sexual activity with a child. He was found guilty of a further count of sexual activity with a child following a trial, and now awaits sentencing.

Johnson was found guilty in part on the basis of a pretty staggering paper trail of 834 Whatsapp messages between him and the girl in question, among which she actually tells him she’s not 16 and he tells her, “just wanted to get ya jeans off LOL.” Sure, ROFLing all the way to a lengthy spell of incarceration.

But now it’s not just Johnson on trial, it’s his club which, after initially suspending him, allowed him to continue playing up until the point he admitted his guilt, after which he was promptly sacked. Did they know? Johnson would only have pleaded guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence against him, after all.

Did they cook up his late plea change with his lawyers to enable him to continue playing up until the admission, just before the trial? Did Sunderland oversee a scenario in which Johnson was allowed to be cheered on the pitch while his victim was abused by the same crowd?

“Do footballers need reminding that it is illegal to have sexual relations with people under the age of consent?”

It does seem unlikely that a Premier League football club would be willing to risk their brand image for Johnson – we’re not talking Ronaldo here, and we are talking ‘sexual activity with a child’, which is never a good look, let’s face it.

And yet in the days that followed, CEO Margaret Byrne resigned after it came to light that she did know Johnson had messaged and, indeed, kissed the schoolgirl. Byrne claims not to have shared this information with anyone else at the club, which also seems odd, but clearly we are looking at a strange sequence of events here.

It’s an odd sequence of events that has provoked an odd reaction. Actually, odd is the wrong word: somewhere between baffling and downright hateful would be more accurate. The Sun wanted you to regard the shame of “Paedo in his Speedos”, after all: why make a serious point about child abuse when you could make use of that dodgy swimwear snap you’ve had in your filing cabinet for the last five years?

Big Sam Allardyce, the club’s manager, wanted the world of football to note the “reminder to everybody to make sure that you don’t put yourself in that position or situation.”

Adam Johnson photo by Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK, shared under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Adam Johnson photo by Ben Sutherland, shared under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Meanwhile the PFA – which runs programmes on ‘personal integrity’ for footballers – said there was “still much work to do” to educate players, following the conviction. The training, said the PFA, ensures players are “fully informed on such issues and includes sexual consent, standards of behaviour and respectful relationships in person and on social media.”

These are all good life lessons for us to learn, but how many adults need educating on the legal age of consent? After all, it’s fairly common practice to drum this into teenagers. Do footballers need reminding that it is illegal to have sexual relations with people under the age of consent?

It’s not football that is on trial here – quite clearly we can’t hold football accountable for Adam Johnson’s bleak sexual preferences – and the reaction worries me immensely, because the inference this might be the case is a deep scar on the already damaged reputation of the sport, a sport loved by so many, including me.

Arise professional troll Katie Hopkins, who has actually made a career of inciting hatred in its numerous forms and naturally has a deeply offensive position on this. I’m not going to share the article, because this is how the Daily Mail continues to justify her platform: by drawing in the outraged to their fetid, murky web.

I will however provide a couple of choice quotes, such as about how the teenager at the centre of this “knew exactly what she was doing,” and labelled her “from would-be WAG to slag.” There’s not a lot more I can write about this without crying, to be honest, so depressing it is that a grown woman could take this view, let alone attempt to whip the public into an agreeable frenzy about it.

The law says that children under the age of 16 do not have the emotional maturity to manage these situations. Whether you agree with that or not, that is the law and to be perfectly honest, I’m 33 and I, by Christ, still get it wrong with alarming frequency. By his own admission Johnson groomed a child: he abused his position, which is why it’s called ‘grooming’ rather than ‘chatting up’, in this context.

Like so many victims of sexual abuse – because that’s what this is – this child has been failed. Failed by Johnson, by the club, by the media. The only reminder this case should serve as is how widespread our failure to protect vulnerable people continues to be.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen