John Laverty: Shamed ref Bobby Madley - a man more sinned against than sinning
At first glance, there's no argument.
Referee Bobby Madley filmed a disabled man crossing the road in front of his car and made a crass joke about it.
When the 34-year-old's employers became aware of the video, they sacked him for "gross misconduct on grounds of discrimination".
Quite right, I hear you cry. A man in the public eye mocking the disadvantaged; it's callous, offensive, unforgivable and indefensible. He deserves all he gets.
Madley's punishment wasn't made public at the time, the Professional Game Match Officials Board merely releasing a bland statement saying the Premier League whistler was relocating to Norway due to "a change in personal circumstances".
But in an emotional statement last week, a contrite Madley revealed he'd been sacked, adding: "I'm not proud of myself. I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It destroyed my career, my reputation and caused immeasurable damage to my family life."
Madley clearly merited both criticism and sanction, but did he deserve to have his life ruined? After news of the video emerged he was subjected to death threats following vile, highly defamatory, completely spurious and unrepeatable allegations, eventually fleeing England for a new life in Scandinavia.
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They say context is everything, so consider this before making a final judgment…
- Madley didn't post the six-second video online; it was sent privately, via text message, to a "trusted friend".
- He sent it on his daughter's school sports day, shortly before he was due to compete in the parents' race and had previously been getting stick about his weight. (A national newspaper had suggested Madley was "too fat" to officiate major football matches).
- The attempted self-deprecating 'joke' amounted to pretending that the disabled man would be competing in the parents' race, with Madley subsequently commenting that it meant he now "had a chance of winning this year".
- Following an argument on an unrelated matter, the aforementioned "trusted friend" transferred the offensive video onto a memory stick and sent it to the PGMO.
- A politician who publicly described black people as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" and Muslim women wearing burkas as looking "like letter boxes" is now running the country - the same country a hitherto highly regarded professional referee has been shamed into leaving.