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  • Monica Lillis

Football and Misogyny: Mason Greenwood and David Goodwillie

A word of warning: this article contains themes of rape culture and sexual assault

Football: Britain’s most popular sport. With 40% of the UK population estimated to have watched Premier League coverage live last year, the statistics speak for themselves. Football matters to this country; it brings pride, community and a sense of belonging. However, this year already, there have been two high profile cases involving British footballers concerning rape, assault and domestic violence towards women.

Mason Greenwood, 20-year-old Manchester United striker, was arrested at the end of January following suspicions of sexual assault, rape and making threats to kill to his partner. The female victim used her social media accounts to build a portfolio of evidence against Greenwood which ultimately led to his arrest. However, he has now been released on extended bail.

In a similar vein, David Goodwillie was signed to play for Scottish Championship side Raith Rovers this year, despite multiple accusations and three convictions of sexual assault in 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2011, he was accused of raping a woman with his fellow teammate and was subsequently charged 5 years later. He paid £100,000 in compensation. Raith later reversed their decision after intense public scrutiny.

It is arguable that so far, these men have been marginally punished. David Goodwillie remains on loan at Scottish League One team Clyde F.C. and continues to work whilst talks about his future continue. Mason Greenwood’s fate is less clear, but we do know he is suspended from playing for Manchester United and many of his brand deals including with sports apparel company Nike are on pause.

Whilst police investigations are on-going, it is wrong to speculate about the details and potential outcomes of specific cases. However, these cases are just the most recent. Therefore, I think it is important to ask why footballers seem to be untouchable by the law. And is there a link between sporting success and law-breaking?

There is no evidence that footballers are more likely to commit crime, however, they are given a unique set of circumstances that allows them to do so without extreme consequences. Firstly, according to studies, sport traditionally serves as a socially esteemed institution where boys formally learn toxic practices of masculinity. It is used as a vessel of transmission of homophobic, misogynistic and femphobic attitudes.

Secondly, what footballers do have, once they become famous, is agency and cultural power. Fans are invested in supporting their role-models and they put time and energy into a person who they admire. Therefore when a player is accused of committing sexual assault and a victim steps forward to reveal their story they are more often than not disregarded. This exists within the existing cultural belief system that victims are attention seeking or lying.

Lastly, footballers have money. The average Premier League football player earns £60,000 a week. This is nearly twice the UK average yearly salary. This gives footballers the means to fight cases that arise because, simply put, they can afford to. Therefore it has been argued that sports professionals aren’t charged as harshly or as consistently as a member of the general public.

This means it is up to governing bodies to address its social responsibility and acknowledge the lack of harsh consequences. This could have a huge impact beyond football and may even influence government policy change.

UK football’s most powerful bodies are currently facing demands following policy changes in the US, to tackle gender based violence. This includes allowing clubs to suspend their players who hold suspicions of abusive behaviour without pay. A powerful letter written by feminist groups Level Up, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Three Hijabis outlines these demands. It further requires compulsory training for staff involving outlines of minimum standards, clear sexual misconduct policy and disciplinary procedures. Co-Director of Level Up is quoted saying:

This is a huge opportunity. If the Premier League can implement a gender-based violence policy and if professional football in the UK will take a stand on this, it will have a huge impact across the rest of society. I genuinely believe they could have more influence than the government,”

Whilst it is promising that footballing institutions are addressing change, it is important to note that members of the general public aren’t charged nearly as firmly as they should be anyway. According to the Home Office official figures, whilst there were 52,210 rape cases recorded by police in England and Wales in 2020, a mere 843 resulted in a charge. This amounts to 1.6%. With such a small charge rate, change seems impossible.

However, there are recent examples of how pressure from those from the sporting community amounted to real structural change. Marcus Rashford, who plays for both the England National Team and Manchester United, used his platform to pressure the UK government to continue to provide free school meals for vulnerable children. His campaign meant that 3 million more meals a week were provided, as well as £170 million extra funding.

This shows that football is no longer just entertainment and that social change is possible with the right intentions. With football leading from the top when it comes to paying the price for gender-based violence, my hope is that through power, agency and privilege, not only is there structural change around rape culture but changes in attitudes towards victims too.

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