April 21, 2004

Ron Atkinson in racist storm.: Ron Atkinson, ex-manager, and originator of a language similar, but not entirely equal to English, called Ronglish, has been forced to resign from his job as a pundit with ITV, following comments made after the final whistle on Tuesday night. Big Ron apparently called Marcel Desailly a "fucking lazy nigger". Unforgiveable language, certainly, but Ron Atkinson played his part in the emergence of black players in England, when the Three Degrees of Brendan Batson, Cyril Regis and Laurie Cunningham played for West Bromwich Albion. Is he really a racist, or an example of a generational shift in the way we use language?

posted by salmacis to soccer at 04:49 PM - 32 comments

He really said that? In a room where he knew there were microphones, some of which might have been on? Wow. There's a big, thick line between "I'm sorry I said something that might have been misconstrued" and "I'm sorry I got caught." Old school thinking doesn't have to include openly racist shite like that. Al Campanis & Jimmy the Greek liked & promoted dark-skinned players in their times too, and they didn't get (or deserve) a free pass neither.

posted by chicobangs at 04:56 PM on April 21

That's some serious rude language, but I'm not sure you can connect what someone says to who they are. I've said some stuff that makes me shudder, stuff that is definitely NOT who I am. I don't know anything about Atkinson, but I'm more inclined to judge a person on their actions (if I'm judging them at all).

posted by dusted at 05:05 PM on April 21

Naww. He's in broadcasting. There's a higher standard there, and he should know better. He's been in the business for decades. He knows where those lines are, and he blew right through them, even if only out of carelessness. I'm not saying he's a totally evil guy, but that kind of race-hatred, even if inadvertent, can't go unpunished. He's served his time in the public eye. Give him some job where he's not preaching to the unconverted and let him live out his years somewhere else. Don't let him besmirch his (not altogether bad, it seems) legacy any more than he already has.

posted by chicobangs at 05:14 PM on April 21

I'm always one of the first to criticise Big Fat Ron as a commentator - but his awfulness as a commentator may be his defence here. He speaks without engaging his brain all the bloody time (hence the Ronglish link above). Having sort of defended him, I'm glad he's gone from ITV's coverage, because he was simply the worst commentator on any network, any sport, and any medium, in the UK.

posted by BigCalm at 05:23 PM on April 21

Man, I'm glad you added that "in the UK" clause at the end, BigCalm, because I was about to introduce you to Van Earl Wright. He's the worst IN THE WORLD. I'm sure of this.

posted by dusted at 05:44 PM on April 21

People don't drop an N-bomb like that without having some issues with black people. I don't know the guy beyond this controversy, but sheesh.

posted by rcade at 06:17 PM on April 21

Bye Ron. You know, in a perverse way I kinda liked listening to your pointless chuntering. But now you've gone and been an arse and spoilt it all. My main concern is they don't replace him with Trevor bloody Francis.

posted by squealy at 06:19 PM on April 21

While I completely agree with the dump job, looking at the links at the bottom of the Telegraph page I wonder where this fits in the bigger scheme: Previous story: Suicide bombers kill 68 in Basra Next story: Vanunu set free after 18 years

posted by billsaysthis at 07:19 PM on April 21

Touche, bill. Is the n-bomb of a bit lesser degree of sensitivity in the UK than it is in the US? I mean in a "cunt" kind of way, which is dropped a lot more frequently in the olde country while it still, relatively, retains it shock/offense factor. Not implying that this guy isn't a complete knobber who should be working as a busboy next week for doing this, much less on national tv. Just curious.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:10 PM on April 21

while it still, relatively, retains it shock/offense factor here in the States.

posted by Ufez Jones at 09:11 PM on April 21

Ufez, unless, of course, one is entitled to use the term because it properly describes oneself. The somewhat schizophrenic approach to the word seems to me to be defeating the purpose.

posted by billsaysthis at 09:39 PM on April 21

Oh, yeah. That's not cool. Ron might have hired black players in the past, but in his mind they were probably all just "niggers."

posted by molafson at 10:02 PM on April 21

Ufez, unless, of course, one is entitled to use the term because it properly describes oneself. The somewhat schizophrenic approach to the word seems to me to be defeating the purpose. I absolutely agree, and not just on racial terms, but in terms of gender, sexual orientation, mental capability, etc. That said, I do realize that certain words hold different cultural connotations and some are less harsh in certain cultures, like the example I cited above. I was just curious if this was one of those cases. I doubt it, but one can never know.

posted by Ufez Jones at 10:42 PM on April 21

The truth is it just doesn't matter if he's a racist or taken out of context or whatever painfully inadequate excuse one can come up for that statement. No self-respecting media broadcaster would let there reputation be affected by this guy again.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:30 AM on April 22

Ufez Jones: I think the n-word has less significance in the UK compared to the USA. It's still totally out of order, but we don't have that black slavery issue to deal with that you do. Also, I should point out that he thought the microphone was off at the time - in fact it was only on in certain places in the Middle East. I still agree that he should have resigned, and that he will also resign his Guardian column. I've never really forgiven him for walking out on West Brom. Twice.

posted by salmacis at 02:36 AM on April 22

No self-respecting media broadcaster would let there reputation be affected by this guy again. Hell, Marv Albert was arrested for sodomy and biting, and he's back in the booth.

posted by dusted at 02:52 AM on April 22

You know, Clive, I'm not so sure that he hasn't just gone and ruined his career there with that one. For me, he's come out with something that's all very easy to say in the heat of the moment if you're a biggot, but I just wonder if that doesn't indicate some deeper hatred. Bad text-impersonations aside - there's no excuse for that, and to be fair, I've not heard Big Ron make one. The apologists going in with the line "But he hired lots of black players when he was a manager..." should put a sock in it - he hired the people he hired because they were good at football, not in an effort to promote racial harmony in the UK. To suggest it was comendable of him to hire people and pay no attention to the colour of their skin is akin to comending him for not taking drugs and not raping old ladies. Interesting how the times change though - it's not so long ago that it would have been the use of the word "fucking" that would have gotten him fired rather than the use of the word "nigger". Racial discrimination is the new taboo!

posted by JJ at 03:59 AM on April 22

Racial discrimination is the new black. (sorry, couldn't resist it)

posted by JJ at 03:59 AM on April 22

The man's a well-known fool and a bit of a joke (as a Coventry City fan I knew that already). However, I would be curious to know whether anyone would have taken him to task if they had heard him say this when the microphones weren't turned on. Probably not. Also, I would also be interested to know what Clive Tyldesley (co-commentator) said in response. I don't think that his record of hiring black players is a fall back. After all, isn't that the excuse of all racists, 'some of my best friends are black/Jewish/gay/bigots etc.'. He was hiring the best players available not helping black players break into the top division in the seventies.

posted by Pete at 06:03 AM on April 22

Line of the day, JJ.

posted by rcade at 07:12 AM on April 22

I have no idea in this situation, but was he hiring black players at a time when it wasn't done often/at all? That would not excuse what he said, but would also make his use of them on his teams more of an issue. For a good chunk of the 20th century blacks were kept out of MLB despite being some of the best players. (Kinda OT: who's records are more "tainted" Bonds for possibly/probably using steroids in the latter part of his career or Ruth's for not facing black players for most of his career?). If Atkinson were a pioneer of sorts in bringing blacks up to the top divisions it may mitigate some of what he said, though by no means excuse it. I have to take issue with lumping Al Campanis in with Jimmy the Greek on an earlier comment. Campanis did more for Black and Latin players throughout his career than any of the "concerned" people who called for his ouster did for the minorities in their dealings, I'll wager. He befriended Jackie Robinson when he came to the Dodger's and asked to room with him. This at a time when most of his teammates wouldn't even EAT with him. A definite case of judge the man by his actions. Given a free pass, no, but in a case like Campanis' a second chance would be in order. It's still totally out of order, but we don't have that black slavery issue to deal with that you do. Wow! Back to history class with you! No sleeping this time.

posted by pivo at 07:44 AM on April 22

Salmacis, next time you go to the Hawthorns pop into a pub in Handsworth and see how acceptable "nigger" is. BFR would not have said it if he wasn't racist, it's not something that pops out by accident, there must be deep rooted issues there. He signed black players, who he constantly referred to as the 3 degrees (and still does) at a time when black players were just breaking through, but as has been pointed out, that doesn't mean he isn't a racist. He has spent the rest of his life reminding us of this fact, which smacks a bit of protesting too much. It's interesting that he obviously thought he could get away with it so long as the microphone was off. Who wants to bet that he ends up on Sky.

posted by Fat Buddha at 08:21 AM on April 22

Sorry pivo, am I missing something? Almost all blacks (and asians) in the UK are here because they or their family chose to come here in the last 60 years. FB: Of course I know how offensive it is! I'm not trying to apologise for BFR. I was trying to bring all the factors into the discussion. BFR himself made the "3 degrees" argument. I stand by my statement that the n-word is has more of a stigma in the USA than the UK.

posted by salmacis at 09:41 AM on April 22

Sorry old chap, but I disagree, to use the word nigger is just plain unforgiveable and is offensive in the extreme, which is why his "resignation" was so swift. You may be missing the point that Britain was very active in the buying, selling and transportation of slaves. Bristol and Liverpool got rich on the back of it and good old Brum did alright as a lot of the trade was in the form of guns and ammunition made in Brum and known as "Brummagem Ware" Britain's history is ignoble. More good news, Big Fat Ron has now parted company with the Guardian.

posted by Fat Buddha at 10:06 AM on April 22

It's kind of the first rule of broadcasting. The microphones are always live. Never assume otherwise. And never, ever say something you wouldn't want picked up and replayed. You ignore that rule at your risk. And Ron was wrong to think otherwise. Sorry, old chap, off to pasture with ye. Anyone who picks him up now gets painted with the same brush.

posted by chicobangs at 01:32 PM on April 22

Ian Wright has been on the radio tonight claiming that nearly every time he met Atkinson there would be some racist "joke " to contend with, to the point that he had to have a word with him. That the fat get called Desailly thick is most amusing.

posted by Fat Buddha at 01:38 PM on April 22

Having sort of defended him, I'm glad he's gone from ITV's coverage, because he was simply the worst commentator on any network, any sport, and any medium, in the UK. I don't know about that: what about Willie Thorne? Or Peter Alliss?

posted by dng at 09:49 AM on April 23

One last thing - I have no idea if anyones still reading down here, either - bu the amusing thing about this is that its been quite well known for about a year that the commentators half time and post game chat gets broadcast abroad - Football365 have been going on about it for a year or more. No one told ITV about it, evidently. I've been wondering when someone would say something that would get them in serious trouble. (previously Ron Atkinson described Totti as a lazy diving fat poof, I remember.) And during the last World Cup, on BBC, if you watched their matches on the interactive digital service, you could change the audio to have radio 5 or the tv commentary. Sometimes though, you could also select the studio sound feed, and here Hansen and Lineker talking and swearing, while believing they were off air. Hansen got in trouble for going on about how much he hates the fucking Germans, which amused me. I always thought the Scots would love them, for all the pain they inflict on England periodically.

posted by dng at 10:19 AM on April 23

I don't know about that: what about Willie Thorne? Or Peter Alliss? Nope, Big Fat Ron still gets my vote, but those two aren't far behind. People had to listen to Ron Atkinson abroad? Surely this is a heinous crime that should have been stopped a long time ago!

posted by BigCalm at 10:42 AM on April 23

Ugh. What you can say is that Ron Atkinson's role in the emergence of black footballers came at a time when Love Thy Neighbour was on evening television, Alf Garnett talked about 'coons' on Till Death Us Do Part, and other regrettables such as It Ain't Half Hot, Mum and Mind Your Language were equally successful. In short, egregious racism was not just acceptable, but considered hilarious in the 70s. Now, 30 years on, while people of BFR's age -- I'm thinking here of my dad for comparison's sake -- aren't as casual about chucking racist epithets into their conversations, you can't help but appreciate -- not accept, but appreciate -- that the previous 30 years doesn't simply get erased from your system. That said, while 'Paki' is probably more incendiary than 'nigger' in the UK, you have to wonder what BFR was doing when all the Kick It Out events were happening at his clubs. Anyway, there's a very very good interview with Atkinson in today's Observer, courtesy of New Nation's Michael Eboda. The final paragraphs basically sums up my feeling:

'No, you don't see colour when you are giving a person a job, and that's how it's meant to be, but you come from an era when certain things were acceptable and I think you are not quite aware of what those things are. That's when you can become racist. I think that in the instant that you used the term nigger you were a racist. 'I don't think that had Desailly been white you would have mentioned his colour. You might have called him a lazy bastard, but you certainly wouldn't have called him a lazy, white nigger.'
I suspect that Ron will be back, suitably chastened. He might also consider donating his time and money to the Kick It Out... campaign.

posted by etagloh at 11:27 PM on April 24

fucking stupid racist

posted by garfield at 01:25 PM on May 05

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