Misinformed, angry, coffee-addled ranting.
A few days ago, the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) annual award ceremony was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Mayfair. Tottenham’s Welsh star Gareth Bale was named both Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, whilst Arsenal’s Kim Little won the inaugural Women’s Player of the Year prize.
However, these events are not without controversy. Surprisingly the huge press outcry wasn’t due to the fact that Luis Suarez was somehow allowed to sit in his chair like a normal human being rather than being strapped to a trolley with a mask over his face like Hannibal Lecter, but instead focused on the performance of comedian Reginald D Hunter.
Hunter, a well known stand up comic who has made multiple appearances on the likes of Have I Got News For You and Qi was booked to perform just 10 minutes at the award ceremony and has somehow managed to generate more outrage than if he’d launched himself into the front row Eric Cantona-style and Kung-Fu kicked PFA Chairman Clark Carlisle in the face.
The PFA have complained at Hunter’s satirical use of racial humour, including the use of the word ‘Nigger’ and jokes about Jews and women. They claim that Hunter broke a ‘verbal contract’ in which he was informed before his performance not to swear or make racist references. Indeed, they’ve even called for Hunter’s fee (reportedly somewhere in five-figures) to be returned, because apparently they don’t see the irony in fighting racism by asking a black man to work for free.
Now admittedly, such humour isn’t to everyone’s tastes, and it is perfectly reasonable for people to suggest that it wasn’t appropriate at this event. The fact of the matter is, Hunter wasn’t performing in a comedy club or on an edgy TV show, but instead at a back-slapping, self-congratulating award ceremony for an industry that’s had more than its fair share of racist controversy recently. Football is trying to shake off its reputation as being soft on racism and incidents such as these aren’t helping their cause.
But the real question is, if you wanted to avoid the potential controversy, why would you book a comedian famous for making jokes about racially sensitive topics? Hell, his current tour is called ‘In the Midst of Crackers’. Hunter has made his reputation by challenging racial stereotypes and using humour that some would admittedly take offence to in order to address some of the inequalities he sees in the world. When he uses the word ‘nigger’ it’s not used as a slur, but instead as a satirical attack on the prejudices behind it.
In fact, this could have been a great opportunity for the football industry to change the attitudes towards racism exhibited by some parties within it. One of the best weapons against oppression is comedy, and it’s possible that by turning racist attitudes into the butt of the joke Hunter and the PFA could have made it clear just how absurd and disgusting such opinions are. Instead, the PFA have turned on the man that they deliberately chose and tried to make him a scapegoat for the problems in football.
I feel sorry for the PFA really. It’s a real shame that they couldn’t, I don’t know, Google Reginald D Hunter, or perhaps look up examples of some of his work on Youtube. Gosh no. Instead they booked him, most probably because someone in charge had vaguely recognised him as a bloke off the telly and then got outraged when they didn’t like what he had to say.
Yes, you could argue that he probably shouldn’t have used the language that he did or made jokes about the subjects that he’d been asked not to touch; but realistically you can’t book someone controversial and then panic when they talk about controversial things. It’d be like leaving John Terry alone in a room with your wife and then getting surprised when you come back five minutes later and he’s mounting her on the sofa.
Quite frankly it’s rich of the football industry to complain so much about satirical jokes when the likes of John Terry and Luis Suarez have been found guilty of using racist language in a genuinely malicious way. That’d be like Pete Doherty asking you if you would put that cigarette out, thank you very much.
But ultimately, as Hunter himself points out, it’s questionable whether the crowd present were as offended as has been suggested, or whether the PFA have sensed another scandal and acted swiftly to distance themselves from any potential blame. They probably realised that on a slow news day, the press would lap up the fact that footballers were laughing at the N word and so decided to pretend no one enjoyed the show. Realistically though, they’ve simply shot themselves in the foot and made themselves look incompetent and incapable of doing any research into who they’re booking.
Still, better to look incompetent than to be seen to be challenging racism through satire.