Recent incidents (Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra and John Terry/Anton Ferdinand) have elevated awareness of racial abuse in English Premier League football.
Luis Suarez, a player for Liverpool FC, was banned for eight matches by the Football Association and was required to pay a £40,000 after racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United in October. The rivalry between the teams has often caused great controversy with verbal abuse often directed between opposing fans and players. Suarez’s refusal to apologies to Evra, and Liverpool’s support for the player has provoked widespread criticism, as well as a wider debate about racism in football. In another case, England and Chelsea captain, John Terry, has been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence after he allegedly used racist language towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. He will appear in court on July 9th 2012. The fallout from this case led to the resignation of England’s manager, Fabio Capello.
While these cases firmly put racism in sport in the spotlight, it is important to acknowledge that the root source of such on-field incidents stem from a widespread acceptance of sledging/trash-talking in sport. The notion of sledging/trashtalking is an issue that causes much controversy. In cricket it is thought to be the fielding team's way of getting inside the batsman's mind (Booth, 2007). In football, taunting and abusing opponents appears to be the norm for both spectators and players.
In the philosophical literature, apologists have suggested it is simply (a strategic) part of the game (Cox et al., 2003; Summers, 2007) while critics consider it a form of borderline cheating (gamesmanship) (Howe, 2004) or irrelevant to sporting competition (Dixon, 2008).
Is it possible to segregate sledging into two distinct categories – impersonal (non-moral) and personal (moral)?
Impersonal (non-moral) sledging/trash-talk is the attempt to add psychological pressure to an opponent (Fraser, 2005) by directing disparaging remarks about their sporting performance. As such critical comments do not directly disrespect an individual’s personhood and integrity, but is instead an attack on what they do rather than who they are.
As such comments are relatively benign are they morally insignificant?
Should we then focus more on more overt and personal verbal abuse?
Or is it fruitless to forge a normative line between what is personal and impersonal as both forms involve viewing ones opponents as means rather than ends in themselves?
Does such behaviour degenerate into personal attacks, such as racial or other offensive insults?