Banter: just another weasel word

By Grant Feller, August 28, 2014

It was simply "banter" and the more my two friends remonstrated with me, the more I wondered whether I had got it wrong.

Now it seems "banter" has become the catch-all excuse for people who are unable to tell the difference between being a racist and speaking like one. If something abusive is explained away in terms of "knockabout humour" or lads using politically incorrect words because they're letting off steam, well, that's OK then.

So when I related how a colleague had referred to a particularly successful Jewish businessman, with the words: "Why are Jews so good at holding on to their money, Grant?" I thought they'd both agree that that was antisemitic.

"Come on, that's just banter," one of them said, "of course he's not being antisemitic, it's a joke."

If it was, it was a pretty poor one, and even if it wasn't, they were the words of a bigot who was using religion to explain someone's success.

He hasn't murdered anyone, says Redknapp

I still consider what he said to me antisemitic. Just as Malky Mackay, the ex-manager of Cardiff City football club, was in my view being antisemitic when he exchanged this text with a colleague: "There's nothing like a Jew seeing money slip between his fingers."

In texts he received, calling someone "a gay snake… who can't be trusted" is homophobic, and joking about "bouncing" on a female colleague's breasts is undoubtedly sexist.

Yet all of these things can be excused with a simple word. Banter. And in the furore since these vile texts were revealed last week, that's the one word we've heard over and over again. Mackay's used it, the idiots at the League Managers' Association used it as they pleaded for us to forgive poor old Malky, and even some of the biggest names in football have perpetuated the myth that just because someone says something racist, it doesn't mean that they are.

Yet excusing racism is as bad as expressing it, it is tantamount to turning a blind eye. The former fuels the latter, almost as if it's a subtle - though often completely unintentional - form of endorsement.

Malky, so everyone tells us, is a good lad at heart and the texts, according to his representatives, can be excused by the fact that they "were, with the benefit of hindsight, very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures".

Yet the lack of outrage from the wider footballing world - aside from Lord Triesman calling for Mackay to be banned from football for a year - is just as much of a scandal.

Personally, I think there's a further dynamic to this pathetic tale of trying to excuse or ignore yet more footballing misbehaviour. Malky is British. Remember the storm when that nasty foreigner Luis Suarez allegedly used racist language on the pitch? Influential pundits led swift calls for severe punishment. That kind of language might be OK in Montevideo, but not here, they cried.

So I was surprised not to read more from high profile players this time round. This is, after all, an even more clear-cut example of racism.

But this is a "good lad" we're talking about (a Brit, not a foreigner), a friend. And so their disgust is levelled at the suits of the LMA, whose cack-handed "banter" response makes them look like dinosaurs.

In an even more astonishing and insulting statement, QPR's Harry Redknapp said: "He's not murdered anyone, he's not a rapist or a paedophile. He's made a big mistake. It happens. He's a family man, a football man. Obviously, someone is after him, ain't they?''

And there we have it. A mate is revealed to have expressed racist sentiments and we should excuse and forgive it.

The deafening silence from fellow football professionals, coupled with the absurd comments from the LMA, Redknapp and others are only making a problem deeply entrenched in society worse.

See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil of friends who reveal their true selves. It's why antisemitism is on the rise in Britain and why football is as far removed from reality as ever.

Grant Feller is a media consultant and director of GF-Media

Last updated: 12:30pm, August 28 2014