The long-anticipated (or long-dreaded, depending on your perspective) racial abuse trial of Chelsea center back John Terry commenced in London this morning, and already my ambivalence is mounting. For those unfamiliar with the case, Terry stands accused of calling Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand a … brace yourselves here, tender American reader … “fucking black cunt” in a match last season. In the US such behavior, if proven, would get you fined, ostracized and probably suspended. In the UK, however, it’s actually illegal, and while Terry faces nothing more than a fine if convicted, it certainly won’t do his reputation any good.
As I have said before, I hope Terry is innocent. The banners at Stamford Bridge proclaim that he is “Captain, Leader, Legend,” and by any measure he is one of the greatest figures in the club’s long history. However, JT has a history of douchenozzlery, and all things considered, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he were guilty as sin.
Terry denies the charges, and the verdict will likely hinge on video of the incident and the testimony of professional lip-readers. I’ve seen the video, and been told “here’s what he’s saying now,” and I just don’t know. For one thing, I’m not much of a lip-reader. Second – and this may sound odd at first – I’m trying to lip-read an English accent. Words sound different because our mouths are shaped differently when we’re speaking, right? If he were American I might have more luck.
Not hedging because I love Chelsea here, though. If you made me bet, I’d put my money down on guilty.
In any case, while acknowledging that lip-reading can be a precise science, the witnesses called so far seem to be supporting the allegations. I don’t know how the English court system works, though. Does uncertainty over expert witnesses tend to break in favor of the defendant or the prosecution? Also, how many Tottenham supporters are on the jury?
The question for me is what should the club do if Terry is found guilty? On the one hand, he remains one of the world’s premier central defenders and his sort of talent is extremely hard to replace at any price. I certainly want my favorite club to succeed, and Terry generally makes them a better team.
On the other hand, there are several black players on the squad, and it’s hard to imagine this not affecting their ability to deal with their captain. Racism in the UK, and in football generally, can be especially virulent. The US has its prejudice issues, to be certain, but you simply don’t see violent, aggressive public displays of racism here like you do in Europe. (It’s especially sad to see the Ferdinand family again drawn into controversy. Anton’s brother Rio, of Manchester United, has long been a supporter of efforts to rid the game of racism.) If Terry is convicted, how can the Blues conscience his continued presence in the locker room? How can he possibly retain the captain’s armband?
I was ready to kick Terry all the way to West Ham after his insanely stupid red card against Barcelona in the Champions League semis, and if he’s found guilty of this offense I simply don’t care how great a player he is anymore. I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but there are more important things in life than athletic talent.
All this said, I don’t expect Chelsea to ship Terry out, regardless of the outcome. Maybe they suspend him, or maybe they don’t. But were I a minority player on the team and they forged ahead with a selfish, hateful racist ass as captain, I’d have my agent on the phone demanding that I be sold.