Eden Hazard Incident
Last week South Wales police dropped their investigation into the incident which saw Chelsea winger Eden Hazard kicking out at a Swansea City ball boy in reaction to what he perceived to be time wasting.
Undeterred, the Football Association have decided to uphold Hazard’s ban for violent conduct for three-matches. Debate around this incident has polarised around issues such as the ball boy’s pre-match tweet, the authenticity of his reaction, and even whether Hazard made more contact with ball or boy. Whichever side you fall on, the way this has been framed by the media has left a lot to be desired.
These debates always seem to reflect the post-Thatcherite consensus in our law-and-order culture. As TV schedules constantly bombard us with UK, U.S., and increasingly Scandinavian ‘Who Dunnits’, the failings of our criminal justice system are disseminated into society. We end up linking every action to a supposedly rational actor. It follows that each broken rule can be traced back to a rule-breaker.
The result is that we rarely consider offences as actions. For example when someone airs a view tinged with snobbery, racism, sexism or homophobia, constructive debate is precluded by a labelling process when we call them a classist, racist, sexist or homophobic. This is unhelpfully divisive, putting the accused firmly on the defensive. They are often left avidly explaining why the label doesn’t fit, pointing toward past examples of better behaviour.
This same strategy was employed by the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield in defence of Hazard.
Fifield stresses that the winger has no ‘previous’ record of offences. Readers are even invited to sympathise with the man who ‘has traditionally been on the receiving end of indiscipline’, as though this is significant. Fifield implied that as Hazard is a ‘good’ person, he doesn’t do ‘bad’ things.
Not that I’m suggesting people should escape all accountability for their actions. Judging every offence on its merits does not excuse every indiscretion. It simply avoids uneven treatment. Take for example the hypotheses that were trending on Twitter immediately after the incident. What if the same kick had been administered by John Terry, Luis Suarez or Joey Barton? Rather than leaping to the player’s defence – as many commentators did – the media would have been indignant.
When these ‘bad guys’ step onto the pitch, they are considered guilty until proven innocent. The same cannot be said of ‘good guys’ like Zinedine Zidane or Thierry Henry, whose violent head butts and hand balls were not condemned until the media had made a feeble attempt to ‘understand’ their actions. Meanwhile, in light of their ‘previous’, even apparently innocuous actions of the ‘bad guys’ – such as Suarez’s (dare I say it?) accidental hand-ball provoke outrage. The same thing leads to the booking of ‘divers’ like Gareth Bale and Ashley Young. Is this fair?
The same desire to individualise responsibility for actions can equally lead to victim blaming. This was apparent in Daniel Taylor’s terrible attempt at a character assassination of the Swansea ball-boy. The implication from highlighting that his twitter profile picture saw him ‘clutching a can of Strongbow while his mate prefers Foster’s’ was clear; 17-year-olds who drink alcohol are somehow unreliable. And who says the Guardian is written by self righteous elitists?
Even those hoping to defend ‘bad’ players rarely help. Take Suarez’s admission of diving in order to win a penalty against Stoke at Anfield earlier this season, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told reporters that there was nothing ‘malicious’ in Suarez’s behaviour, before attributed it to his ‘nature’, saying ‘it’s just the way he is’. His comments are naive at best, particularly when this will play on the minds of match officials and could lead only to further entrenchment of suspicion.
Not only is it quite out of character for me to write for the Sport section, but the idea of producing a defence of Luis Suarez would last week have appalled me. People aren’t inherently good or bad, they act inconsistently and irrationally. So whatever you feel about how Hazard has been treated, be aware that the media has treated him favourably.