What should happen to Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood now his case of attempted rape has been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service?
Published: 14 February 2023
Greenwood has not appeared for United or England since.
Discussing this, the Matthew Syed, the former Olympic competitor and fine columnist for The Times, asked if sports people involved in wrongdoing should be forgiven.
“Or should they be dispatched to outer darkness, as some have argued on social media and elsewhere?”
He wrote among other cases of the Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson, about whom I had a disagreement with my dear friend Lyra McKee in 2018, the year before her murder.
Lyra and I were never inhibited by the more than four decades that separated us. Both of us had friends of all ages and were hard to shock.
She was exceptionally mature, empathetic and in almost all respects absolutely open minded: sectarianism was to her as baffling as it was wrong; she had as many male as female friends and they were straight as well as gay.
Professionally, both of us had followed our inclination to walk in other people’s shoes. And we both enjoyed honest debate.
But we were in utter disagreement about Jackson, who with fellow-player Stuart Olding (and on lesser charges two others) stood trial in early 2018 for rape and sexual assault.
The sorry story of a night of alcoholic excess and mixed messages, that young men saw as a great night out and a young woman regretted and claimed was rape, was all too familiar from the endless soccer scandals chronicled in the English tabloids.
I did not and do not automatically believe those described as victims in such cases.
After the nine-week rugby trial, it took only three hours and 40 minutes for the eight men and three women of the jury to accept the defence that the sex was consensual and unanimously acquit them all.
It had been an utterly hellish time for all those involved.
Lyra’s and my difference of opinion was over the protest marches: the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse of all kinds, was just getting into its stride.
But while I had been a feminist from my teenage years for very good reasons in Catholic Ireland, I disliked the way so much of it had metamorphosed into being aggressively anti-men and in Ireland was now focused on wrecking the careers of two talented players.
From my perspective, Jackson and Olding had been found not guilty and should be treated as such. And I hated the hysteria on social media.
From Lyra’s, what they had done and how they had spoken of it later in text messages was unforgiveable.
So she went on marches and rejoiced that — despite their expressed remorse — Jackson and Olding had been fired from the Irish rugby team.
And I didn’t. But we stayed friends.
Jackson was taken on by London Irish, which lost sponsors and followers and was called a pariah for giving him a chance. The Irish national team never took him back. Like Syed, I think that unfair.
Should not men guilty of misogyny have a second chance? he enquired. “The notion of forgiveness is central to our ethical tradition.”
It was why criminals who had served their time were allowed to work again and be in society.
“Would a lifetime ban serve the cause of women, or would it not insinuate that men socialised into the misogynistic culture prevalent in certain parts of the game are incapable of changing? Would it not imply that defects of character are permanent, that moral education is futile, that people who do wrong are irredeemable?”
I thought of this in the context of the fury over Stephen Fulton, who killed his wife Corien in 1999, being elected worshipful master of Cookstown District LOL No 3.
Having been judged “substantially impaired by a mental disorder” and remorseful, he had been given five years for manslaughter.
The Orange Order handled the terrible publicity with their customary absence of public relations skills, and Fulton resigned.
But I can’t help remembering how nationalists elect unrepentant murders.
And how forgiving many Orange brethren were to my dear friend Sean O’Callaghan, the repentant IRA ex-terrorist, because they believed he had earned redemption.
I would like to see similar charity bestowed on everyone who has done wrong and truly repented. And less on those who never say sorry.