Everything is perception.
As of right now, Liverpool have a player on their books who, according to the criminal report, throttled his partner Rachel Wall, held her against a wall and kicked her while she was on the ground.
There is almost far too many details and variables that go into a complicated, nuanced case like this, and football’s reaction to it. For the record, Jon Flanagan’s partner is still with him, despite his court conviction. The man in question has been sentenced to forty hours of unpaid work and a twelve-month community order after pleading guilty to common assault. The sentence was lenient due to a lack of previous misdemeanours, as it is the judicial system’s mantra to judge instances on their merit, in relation to the accused, and not the crimes in a larger context.
For Liverpool football club, it was a chance to be better.
Better than football, which has seen multiple similar offences dealt with poorly and with significant backlash. Danny Simpson, Leicester’s right-back, was convicted of strangling the mother of his child Stephanie Ward and sentenced to three hundred hours of unpaid work. He still plies his trade in the Premier League. People don’t forget; Danny Simpson is the English full-back that assaulted his wife. Jon Flanagan is now an English full-back that assaulted his girlfriend.
There is an argument that has deemed his court sentence and ruination of his reputation as punishment enough, and that Liverpool Football Club ought to rehabilitate the convicted full-back as a means of setting things right. But it is not a football club’s role to assist their employees in resuming their previous life as a “better person”. It is the role of a football club, as a pillar of popular culture and an institution looked up to by many, to show every kid that pulls on their colours what they ought to idolise in their heroes, to show them that footballers are only human and that humans should be punished when they commit a serious offence.
There are organisations out there whose objective it is to reform and rehabilitate people who’ve made serious mistakes. A football club isn’t one of those organisations – instead a football club should be thinking of every female fan who now has to come to terms with the fact that there is a man wearing the colours they idolise who would physically harm his partner. A club should be thinking of a kid who knows Jon Flanagan’s name, who is being educated in how to treat women, and who is now confused as to why, if someone has committed a crime like this, they should be allowed to keep their job as a professional footballer – as a figure idolised by so many.
Liverpool are now a football club that has a convicted domestic assaulter on their books. Many see Flanagan’s reputation in tatters, many question why a club would pick him up after the conviction. So why should Liverpool show the loyalty? Because he’s scouse, right? Because he’s one of their own?
It’s unfortunate that Mamadou Sakho was moved on from the club due to his disturbing presence in the “dressing room” yet a man convicted of domestic assault is deemed to have simply made a mistake that he needs to recover from, all within the confines of his day-to-day working job.
There’s another argument being made that if Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino had been convicted of the same crime that Flanagan has been, they’d be given a more lenient approach. In fact, Roberto Firmino’s drink-driving conviction has been cited as evidence of this.
What that does is essentially reduce a systemic issue of oppression and women’s rights into a discussion of tangible status – ignoring the issue itself and focusing on the fact that the twenty-five-year-old is a disposable commodity, rather than a valuable one. That diminishes every incident of domestic violence that gets reported, creates a perception of “well it can’t be that bad if he kept his job, right?” and puts footballers on a pedestal that they clearly don’t deserve.
It stands to reason that if Mohamed Salah had committed domestic assault, there would be an even greater outcry for his sacking. The backlash would be far more severe than it has been regarding a backup full-back. That too, isn’t right, because if progress is to be made, the identity of the accused shouldn’t matter. Domestic assault is domestic assault.
Yes, individuals are capable of making mistakes, and everything should be done to not only punish their actions but reform them, and prevent it from ever happening again. Some might even keep their jobs, but would any of those jobs have the social impact of a professional footballer? Would a politician remain in office after being outed as someone who disregards women like that? Maybe if they were President of the United States, they would.
Liverpool could’ve been better than football – where players have been allowed to persevere despite being convicted of crimes. They could’ve put their foot down, shown to their fans and those who believe football to be primitive and pragmatic that actions deserve consequences.
They didn’t. And that’s a damn shame.