Good riddance to Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who have both now gone from Sky after being exposed as not only sexist, but in their plain contempt for Sian Massey on the grounds that she is a woman, arguably also misogynist. Even if you are mad enough to think this is politically correct nonsense, that holding these views shouldn’t bar them from presenting televised sport as long as they don’t express them on-air, that this is the ‘thought police’ at work or some other bullshit, there are other things this affair has highlighted.
Gray and Keys flatly stated that Massey shouldn’t be doing the job because women don’t understand the offside rule. This is a pub-bloke cliché which the two men have clearly never bothered to examine. It’s not that women don’t understand the offside rule, it’s that people who don’t like football (often) don’t understand the offside rule, because they understandably don’t care enough to try. That huge category of ‘people who don’t like football’ contains more women than men, although by no means overwhelmingly so.
The offside rule is not, in fact, on a par with Fermat’s Last Theorem. Anybody who has watched a bit of football can understand what it’s for and how it works. It seems likely that as Sian Massey progressed through the ten levels of officialdom in the English game, someone thought to check that she’d grasped it. It’s a difficult rule to apply: that’s why officials get offside decisions wrong every week. But the difficulty is because you basically have to be looking in two places (the player making the pass and the player receiving it) at once, not because there are any subtle distinctions (unlike fouls, for example, where the referee often has to judge the player’s intent).
To believe offside is in any way complicated involves (a) living in a shockingly limited world, where things that are genuinely complicated do not exist and (b) being too stupid to conceive of genuinely complicated things. Keys and Gray’s comments indicate two men who have spent too long in the football-media bubble where nothing matters except football, apart from football and possibly also football (but not women’s football). You could argue that’s not a flaw considering it’s their job, although I’d disagree. But the comments also indicate two men who are fairly stupid.
Perhaps this is about as surprising as the revelation that a middle-aged former footballer and a middle-aged football presenter have sexist attitudes, but it’s still depressing. Yes, it’s a running joke that professional footballers aren’t known for their intelligence – in Britain at least – and the sharpest ones tend to favour management, so television has to pick from what’s left. And it’s a running joke among football fans that certain pundits lack insight and talk in clichés – it’s become part of the entertainment, in fact. But when it stops being funny, it suddenly seems embarrassing. These are the people who explain the game to us. Can’t we find someone smarter to do it?