The sacking of Andy Gray and subsequent resignation of Richard Keys from Sky Sports has opened up a much needed debate about sexism in football.
I’m not entirely convinced how noble Sky’s motives for the sacking are. After all Gray is currently taking legal action against another part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire over alleged phone hacking by the News of the World.
But whatever Sky’s reasons, everyone is still talking about the case. It’s clear that some people still think it’s acceptable for public figures to have views like theirs.
To them the issue was getting caught on record. After all, Gray and Keys were only bantering. “What’s the problem with a few off hand comments?”, they say.
Keys was filmed making gross comments in a television studio to ex‑footballer Jamie Redknapp about an old girlfriend.
Afterwards he claimed he was attempting to put his fellow presenters at ease. If that was his aim he failed, because instead they look uncomfortable and embarrassed.
But what was the most encouraging thing about the whole affair, is that most commentators, including those from within the world of football, think Sky made the correct decision.
Even Ron Atkinson supported the move—and his own TV career ran into the buffers when he was sacked in 2004 for using racist terminology.
Gray and Keys have been denounced as “dinosaurs”, hangovers from a previous age.
Unfortunately, while things have undoubtedly improved over the last decade, bigotry—whether it’s sexism, racism or homophobia—is still very apparent in football.
Women, black people and gay people play a full and vital part in everyday life. We pay the same money to see a match as white men and we are demanding of as much respect.
Big campaigns against racism in football, such a Kick it Out, plus the number of black players in league teams, have made racism less acceptable at football grounds these days.
I watch Manchester United at Old Trafford, and I’ve sat in the same area for ten years.
Not only is it rare to hear any racist comments, but if any are made they are challenged by other fans.
Sexism and homophobia however, are still considered more acceptable.
This is not surprising when gay footballers are advised by the likes of public relations guru Max Clifford not to come out as it will affect their careers.
Sexism runs deep through football culture in Britain. There are no female football managers in the league, and less than 1 percent of all referees registered with the Football Association (FA) are women.
And that helps the likes of Gray and Keys to feel confident in expressing such sexist views about women so openly.
These ideas about women run more deeply in the game than they do on the terraces.
It would be easy to miss the fact that the England women’s team has been far more successful internationally than the men’s.
Sexism may still sit not far below the surface, but no-one who sits near me at a match would dream of suggesting I didn’t understand the offside rule.
And, every time the blokes agree with something the women sitting around them have said and get to know them more, they think twice about comments they might have previously made. It is still hard work though.
Culture is difficult to shift, and women’s oppression is so intrinsically tied to the needs of this society that any shift is powerful, political and threatening for the ruling class.
And, at a time when cuts are being pushed through, It is particularly women who cuts force into unpaid carer roles.
The notion that we have achieved women’s equality in society is a myth.
Women still earn on average 80 percent of men’s earnings, and gender divisions in the labour market are still clearly defined.
This is both reflected and magnified in football.
But some things have shifted. Every time England captain Rio Ferdinand labels the likes of Gray and Keys as “prehistoric”, or the FA comes out against bullying idiots, it gives women more confidence.
It helps us to feel we can stand up and challenge inequality—not only in football but in wider society.