Sexism? In English football? Surely you jest.
Sunderland hosted Burnley on March 18th in Matchweek 29 of the Premier League, their last game before the international break. The game played out to a 0-0 draw, leaving the Black Cats marooned at the bottom of the table with time running out on their hopes to avoid relegation at the end of the season.
Because Sunderland apparently can’t resist a good PR crisis, the dropped points were the least of their worries.
After the game, manager David Moyes was fielding short interviews with the press. Typical stuff, we all know what to expect. During an interview with the BBC’s Vicki Sparks, Moyes was asked whether he was under additional pressure during the game because Sunderland owner Ellis Short was attendance; to which he replied, “no, none at all.” Once the interview was over and Moyes apparently thought he was no longer being recorded, he apparently threatened to slap Sparks and warned, “careful the next time you come in.”
Even if Moyes was kidding— and it’s not entirely clear that he was, plenty of men laugh while making legitimate threats against women— this is seriously Not Okay.
After letting the controversy gain a head of steam over the past two weeks, the club finally made Sunderland apologize. In his press conference ahead of the trip to Leicester, Moyes addressed his behavior and said he “deeply regrets” the exchange.
The Football Association has contacted Sunderland about the incident and asked for a statement from Moyes. They are said to be considering sanctions against the Sunderland manager, although whether this actually happens and the stiffness of any possible punishment are all still up in the air. The FA’s track record on gender equality isn’t particularly great, after all.
Meanwhile, the UK shadow minister for sport condemned Moyes’ conduct on Twitter and called on the FA to launch an investigation.
Moyes was also called out by Clare Phillipson, the director of domestic abuse nonprofit Wearside Women In Need.
”I think the FA have to look into it. It is for the FA to set a clear standard about what they think is acceptable. It was dreadful, absolutely appalling. This is a woman, in a very small minority of sports journalists, trying to go about her job and being threatened. It’s the sort of thing you expect down the local pub, not the kind of thing you get from a professional football manager.”
There are always at least a few incidents like this season, and it never ends up being just about the thing itself. Sometimes it’s something like this, sometimes it’s a club employee being abused, sometimes it’s a player spewing bigotry on social media. Something happens that signals to everyone who isn’t a powerful cishet white man that they are not welcome in English football and then we all anxiously wait for the FA to step in and set things to rights. And then we act surprised and outraged when they don’t. Keep that in mind the next time the FA wants you to know about Kick It Out or rainbow laces.
Dealing with inequality takes hard work and uncomfortable conversations, and time and again the FA has demonstrated they don’t care enough to bother with any of that. David Moyes will likely get off with little more than a token fine and a slap on the wrist, and none of us should act surprised, but we undoubtedly will. And then we’ll forget all about it. Until the next time something like this happens.