The English Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) is a strange beast.
On the one hand it is a trade union that is best known to the general public for representing the interests of multi-millionaire athletes as they leave a trail of chaos across the nightclubs and city centres of England but on the other hand it is instrumental in providing such useful services as post-career training and education for the kind of footballers that don’t catch the public eye through tabloid exploits and who often find themselves out of work and out of options when it comes to anything resembling a career path.
In the last couple of weeks though the PFA has found itself in the middle of the kind of dilemmas that would keep the Ethics Department of the average university busy for at least a couple of semesters.
The first such case was when it weighed in on the heated debate over racism as Chairman Gordon Taylor announced that his organization would seek to make racist abuse on the field an offence that resulted in the termination of the contract of the guilty party.
Leaving aside the slightly strange notion of a union wanting to implement a rule that resulted in some of its members being fired, and while accepting that the thinking behind the proposal is laudable, this really does seem to be a case of the PFA spotting a can marked “worms” and reaching immediately for the nearest available opener.
The second case that brought the PFA into the spotlight was the decision by recently promoted Swindon Town to take goalkeeper Luke McCormick on a trial basis.
The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor wrote an excellent piece on the subject but the basic (and tragic) details are that four years ago McCormick, who at the time was playing for Plymouth Argyle, was found guilty of driving under the influence after killing two boys aged ten and eight and is due to be released from prison in the coming weeks.
The Swindon fans have reacted to the possible signing with emotions that range from outright disgust to acceptance of the value of rehabilitation but the PFA have been very clear in their support for McCormick’s right to resume his career and they have stated that the player has already spoken to them about the possibility of taking up a role explaining the dangers of alcohol to young players.
We will all have our own thoughts on this particular case that revolve around issues such as the harshness of judicial sentences to the notions of forgiveness and revenge, but the PFA have decided that they need to support one of their members at a time when few others in society would be there to help.
And that is where the two cases meet and collide.
For when it tries to help McCormick the PFA is delving into a difficult situation in a way that may, even at the smallest level, actually result in some good.
There would surely be no benefit to society in leaving the player unemployed and destitute but there may be a little benefit if he is able to instill some notion of the dangers of driving under the influence to youth team players, or even just one such player.
I am sure that McCormick lives with what he has done every day (although nowhere near to the extent that the parents of the boys he killed do) and any organization that devotes time and resources to allowing him to give a little something back should be lauded for their efforts.
Which is what makes the recent foray into the issue of racism so galling.
It smacks too much of the PFA indulging in the kind of “soundbite politics” that is more intended to impress a constituency than it is to actually do some good.
Can any of us imagine how high the levels of vitriol would have risen from the recent race rows if there was even the possibility that a player found guilty would have been fired from his club?
Racism is wrong and can be dealt with either through the games internal disciplinary process or, if required, the criminal justice system and allowing other parties to add mandatory punishments would only muddy the waters of an already murky situation.
The PFA is offering a simple solution to a complex problem and that is never a good idea.
Helping people like Luke McCormick may not be popular, it may not even be very pleasant, but the end result could well prove to be more rewarding and more beneficial than helping to create yet another media feeding frenzy over what one footballer said to another.
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