British soccer commentators lose their jobs because of sexist remarks

It’s always nice—and more than a little surprising—to see sexism denounced in the sports world. Last week, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, two of Britain’s top soccer commentators, found themselves in hot water because of a sexist off-air exchange (damn those hot mics! every time!) they made during a English Premiere League match. And when footage of two more incidents in which they made sexually inappropriate comments was leaked, they both lost their jobs at Sky Sports.

In the original exchange (which you can listen to here) Gray and Keys claim that the assistant referee Sian Massey every woman everywhere doesn’t understand the offside rule.

Well, somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.

Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? A female linesman.

That’s exactly what I’m saying. Women don’t know the offside rule.

And, at the end of the clip, they do my very favorite thing that misogynists sometimes do: dismiss the existence of sexism and say something sexist, in the very same breath, while keeping a straight face. “Did you hear the charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yep, do me a favor, love.” Really, dudes? Remember all of 5 seconds when you said that “the game has gone mad” because women, who just can’t seem to grasp the simple offside rule, are allowed to be referees? As Brady said: “I think this just sums up everything I said in my column.”

In the aftermath of the scandal, three former female employees spoke out about the “culture of bullying and sexism” at Sky Sports and Gray and Keys were criticized by many as “dinosaurs” and their comments deemed “prehistoric.” And although they did have a few defenders who claimed it was all just humorous banter, I think it’s largely because the comments couldn’t easily be dismissed as a joke that they were so widely condemned. If Gray and Keys had been laughing, I bet they’d have gotten away with it. But since they were obviously dead serious, they came off as the bitter, sexist men that they are.

To really tackle the culture of sexism in sports, we need to clearly draw the connection between these moments of humorless sexism—which most people easily recognize as wrong—and the subtle, more insidious sexism that’s often cloaked in the friendly guise of casual banter. As one of the women who worked at Sky Sports said, “But as long as everyone is laughing and it’s a joke it’s all right isn’t it?” This episode should teach us that it isn’t. Because it’s always a joke, until they think the microphone is off, and then it’s just real.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • ellestar

    Huh. I’m female and almost always have to re-explain the off-sides rule to my husband whenever we watch soccer.

    Just for everyone’s understanding: Off-sides is what prevents sending players up to stand next to the goalie while the rest of the play is being done further down field. If they allowed players to just to hang out in the other team’s goal area, all a team would have to do is pass the ball as hard as they could up the field and have their players shoot at an almost undefended goal. This is not quite fair.

    To prevent this, they made the rule that you cannot pass forward to a player if there is no opposing player between her and the other team’s goalie. Line refs usually stand exactly even with the furthest back defender to mark the off-sides line. If a player is on the other side of that line and receives a pass from another teammate who is passing forward, they’re off-sides.

    See, a simple off-sides explanation from a female. It helps I’ve played soccer for over 20 years of my life, but there you go.

  • Matt

    While these sort of remarks may be able to fly among casual fans, and players wouldn’t get fired (although there would at least be fines if they were public), and commentators do get away with other sexist remarks, this example is so egregious (any coherent adult who watches a game of soccer will know the offsides rule before it is over) that any commentator of a game in a major league is going to be fired. Even commentators for lesser leagues (like major college sports or second tier pro leagues) would get axed for saying something that dumb.

    If it seems more than a little surprising, it’s worth keeping in mind that commentators have their jobs because of what they say. If a commentator has a screw-up that reflects so negatively on their ability to do their job (which is to say things that their audience should hear), it is only natural they pay a steep price.

  • sinead owens

    I’m British, and obviously grew up surrounded by football, or soccer, sorry. I played the game with my friends and cousins when I was younger and have always followed it up until about 2 year’s ago when I became completely disillusioned about the way the men involve behave.

    Football/soccer is the biggest sport in the country, and Keys and Graham being fired a couple of weeks ago was all over the news for day’s, especially as previous comments that had been made by the pair were released to the press. At first I felt that their comments were ‘prehistoric’ as stated in the original post and put this down to ‘that generation’ of working class men in the UK, who feel this way about women in general. I have experienced more than a few of these charming men, as I grew up in a very working class neighbourhood. But the more I thought about it the more I came to realize that this is British Football culture at it’s worst, and unfortunately, despite the criticism’s that have been leveled at the two since they have been fired, it is obvious amongst the younger generation of men, and even worse, the player’s. The footballer’s in the higher level’s of this game are payed an absurd amount of money ( I’m talking 150,000 a week, after tax,) and for the most part tend to act as though they are untouchable, and unfortunately they are treated as such by many.

    During 2010 alone, the captain of the England football team, John Terry,the captain of the team that would be representing my country to the the rest of the world at the World Cup during the summer, was discovered to have been having an affair with his former teammates girlfriend, while married. This was the biggest news story in the country for week’s, Terry was subsequently sacked as Captain, but remained on the team. However the media coverage was mostly at the outrage of Terry sleeping with a teammates girlfriend, while barely anyone batted an eyelid about him cheating on his wife of several years, and the mother of his children. It was later found out that Terry had cheated on his wife previously.

    Several months later Wayne Rooney, the biggest star in English football, was discovered to have had several dalliances with high end prostitutes, while his wife was pregnant. Rooney was never suspended, nor as far as anyone was made aware, was he questioned by the police for acts which I believe are illegal. Again this story was all over the front pages, and despite this being the second time that Rooney was found sleeping with prostitutes in his relationship, his wife has stayed with him. I guess there is no accounting for taste.
    Another member of the team was also caught sleeping with a prostitute just a few week’s later, and another player was divorced by his wife when he was caught cheating for a second time. However I would also like to say that this was the only player whose wife did leave him.

    This post may seem long winded, and I apologize for that, but I just find it almost heartbreaking that the biggest male role models in this country, do not seem to be punished for their actions, even when they are illegal. Young boy’s see these men with their seemingly glamorous lifestyle,and the way they behave and I’m sure more than a few think that this is acceptable. I can only think of one example of a player being punished for their actions.

    In 2008, Marlon King was sentenced to prison time after he punched a young woman in the face, and broke her jaw when she refused his advances. King was at the club that night celebrating his wife’s pregnancy (Charming). However King only played for a minor league team, and therefore the story received nowhere near the level of attention in the press that any of the other stories did. And his wife stood by him. Surprise.

    With football as huge and as profitable as it is, I don’t expect that mush will change quickly, but there is always some hope for me, and for young female football fan’s as I once was. The England women’s football team were runner’s up in the last European championship’s, and reached the quarterfinals of the last women’s world cup. Several member’s of the team have ‘regular’ job’s and many are also mother’s, and this received almost no coverage in the press, or airtime on television. I would also like to point out that Karen Brady, the women referred to in the original post was the youngest ever managing director of an English football team, at 23, a great achievement for anyone, let alone a woman in this male dominated world.

    It’s the women like this that I hope young girls are learning from, and the women like this that make me proud of my country, rather than the men that make me ashamed of it.