On Saturday, footballer Adam Johnson will likely take to the football pitch with his Premier League team mates for their match against Stoke City. And this would not be unusual, except that Johnson has been charged with 3 counts of sexual activity with a minor and with 1 charge of grooming a minor.
It is impossible to comprehend the level of disrespect to the young girl – the child – Johnson is charged with abusing that this entails, but the message that Sunderland AFC are sending is clear: the word of a child holds no value and even less worth. Johnson is good at kicking a ball, and the trauma a girl might experience matters less than whether Johnson can put a ball in the back of the net, or help it to get there. Winning matters more than a girls life.
You would think that it could not be possible that in the 21st Century, a professional football club would consider that a young girl’s life would matter less than a game of football, and you might think such an accusation were harsh – after all they suspended him after his initial arrest in March, but when the did so they were facing two difficult matches and potentially a relegation battle.
Of course keeping Johnson playing matters more than a young girl. There seems little doubt that how the coming trial and Johnson’s continued public presence might impact on the alleged victim hasn’t even crossed the minds of Ellis Short and the management of Sunderland AFC. But there is the wider issue.
The grooming of children and young girls for abuse is a terrifying reality for far too many, day in and day out: whether it be the young girls who – with their families – were disbelieved for years in Rochdale, or the gang of men recently found guilty of the most sickening grooming of young families and abuse of babies and small children,(CN), we hold the lives of children and young girls in little or no esteem. Victims of abuse up and down the country tomorrow will, as Johnson walks out on the pitch tomorrow, be told in no uncertain terms that nobody really, truly cares and that the privilege of a young white sportsman to ply his trade matters more than they do.
It is arguable whether this is less a problem within organised sport specifically than it is in society generally. But as the whistle blows at 15:00 tomorrow afternoon, it is certain that neither Johnson, Sunderland AFC or the fans will even be thinking about anything beyond whether or not a goal is scored.
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