Right now there's a man in a dock because of something he said to another man. He didn't hit him, he didn't steal from him, he said something to him. Something so bad that they've been dragged in front of a judge to sort it out.
Opinion on the issue is a lot more divided than you might have realised. You might think he's already guilty and, for whatever reason, want to see the book thrown at him. You might think there's a freedom of speech issue at stake here, the old “I don't agree with what you say but I'll die for your right to say it” situation. You might even think that political correctness has gone, in some way, mad. How very original of you.
Technically, you're all right. But you're also all wrong. It's all very complicated, but essentially boils down to two men throwing snowballs at each other until one, deliberately or otherwise, scooped up a rock and swang.
I don't want anyone to miss my point here. I know what residents of the internet are like for reading the opening few words of an article and then wandering off to find something brown and sticky to repaint the authors front door with, so stay with me.
To clarify, if the allegations levelled against John Terry are true, then the ban and the fine should be dramatic. If t'other Ferdinand can miss nearly a year of his professional career for missing a drugs test, then the sanctions levelled against a man who deliberately racially abused another human being should be at least as stern.
But even if they were, that wouldn't solve the problem.
If anything's become apparent during the trial, it's been the staggering frequency and ferocity of verbal abuse that exists on the football pitch. No matter how personal, everything about a footballer is fair game for ridicule – ability, siblings, lifestyle, spouse, performance, children, looks, parents, habits, tastes, the lot. Mostly from the fans.
This is all fine though, right?
I mean, we all had a tittle over reports of the barristers asking Anton Ferdinand to show them his gesture for shagging. Can any of us honestly say that in the heat of the moment we've not shouted something thoroughly indecent at an official or a player? You're not telling me you've never laughed at a Graham Le Saux joke. It's by no means on a par with racism, but when calling complete strangers awful names is something that comes free with the season ticket, can any of us really stand here with a straight face and be outraged when someone takes it too far?
Racism is something that cannot, and should not, be simply laughed off. But so long as we continue to encourage this culture of abuse that we the fans are festering, then “boil-over” incidents like the Terry/Ferdinand or the Evra/Suarez debacles are always likely to happen.
Over on Twitter, a rather intrepid and quick thinking chap by the name of Matt put together a breakdown of an unfiltered sample of tweets directed at Joey Barton in the aftermath of his red card on the last day of the season. Every 40 seconds someone called him a “disgrace”. Every 48 seconds, someone called him a “c***”. And every 80 seconds, someone would remind him that his brother was put into prison for murder. Fair game though apparently, because he was sent off during a game of football...
Having a system that decides in which ways it is and isn't ok to abuse another person is like dropping a thousand bricks on somebody and just hoping none hit them in the face. If we really want cancers like racism out of our game forever then the bigger picture needs addressing – it's the atmosphere of hostility they thrive in that needs to go, not just the individuals who get caught doing it.
Whenever FIFA's batshit-powered windmill of random ideas whirrs into life, or some faceless corrupting oil baron suggests moving Stockport County to Bahrain, fans the world over are quick to unite and tell these swines that it's “our” game or “our” club and we're not all going to sit with our thumbs up our pies and let them do this. Well, if that's really true, if we really believe all that bluster about this being the most inclusive sport on the planet, then the alleged events of October 23rd 2011 are “our” problem as much as they are Her Majesty's.
Ultimately, hate is hate. We can't pick and choose the bits we're ok with.