Thursday, March 26, 2009

Word up

Last week, while commentating on a football game, Alan Pardew, the former West Ham manager described a strong challenge during the Chelsea – Manchester City game as ‘rape’. His actual words were: “he absolutely rapes him!”

I agree that this was an unfortunate turn of phrase but I think the media have got a little bit carried away, as usual.

To put the quote into context, Michael Essien, Chelsea’s physical midfielder had made a strong tackle on a young Manchester City player. Pardew commented: “He’s a strong boy. He knocks him off.” Another commentator interjected with “He mauls him!” to which Pardew followed up “He absolutely rapes him.”

The issue the media have is that they think it is obscene to liken a strong challenge in a game of football to sexual assault. I agree. There is nothing that would happen during a sporting event that could be compared but that is not what Pardew was doing.

If you look up the word rape in the dictionary (try it gives the above meaning, but it also means ‘to seize by force’. In fact, it is often used in this context when describing the ‘rape of the countryside’ for example. When you hear this meaning, it seems a perfectly reasonable description of Essien’s tackle.

Yes, the most common understanding of the word is to describe sexual assault. Unfortunately it is within that context we hear it most, on the news etc but are we forgetting, in our rush to make our displeasure public, that a lot of words have a number of different meanings?

Yes, I agree it was an unfortunate choice of phrase but let’s not get carried away. Let’s not get upset about something that isn’t there. There are more important things to get upset about. Actual rape being one of them. Complaining about the use of the word during a football match doesn’t help victims of this most heinous of crimes.

Often, in football matches, teams are described as taking a ‘battering’ or ‘thrashing’ after a particularly heavy defeat. Is this meant literally? No. The defeat on the football pitch is not being compared to physical violence. It’s not making light of actual physical violence. Can we just get over ourselves?

These days, every media site invites the public to comment on their stories so whereas in years gone by one person may have thought Pardew’s comment to be inappropriate, now that person may post that comment on a national website, leading others to read it and then think, ‘yes, I agree it was an inappropriate thing to say’, even though at the time it never registered in their mind. Another website can mention the same comment and then all of a sudden people who didn’t hear the original comment, and don’t know the context it was used in complain about it and it becomes a huge media storm.

Lee Eggleston, Chairwoman of Rape Crisis England and Wales had this to say: “That something as serious as sexual assault has been misused to describe football is appalling. He has trivialised and undermined the seriousness of rape and anyone who has suffered sexual violence will rightly be angry.”

But that’s not what happened is it love? Is someone in her position really not aware that the word ‘rape’ can be both a noun and a verb? Is this word in danger of being limited to only one meaning like other words such as ‘pedophile’? The etymology of the word pedophile shows that the original meaning was to innocently describe someone who liked children. Mary Poppins may have been described as a pedophile. There was never any mention of anything sexual. Maybe it is a sign of the times, or maybe it is just the bastardisation of our language by common ignorance.

Alan Pardew has since apologised for his comments which I believe is the right thing to do. He unintentionally offended a lot of people and I think the apology signifies that he is innocent of that intent and allows us all to move on.

This issue does leave one question unanswered. Why are we all so eager to be offended?

1 comment:

  1. I think that people who are easily offended are usually ignorant.

    Great post! ~j