In the modern era of professional sports, many teams have erred on the safe and responsible side when it comes to judging a player’s actions off the field. The NFL is a perfect example in which teams will promptly release a player following the emergence of illicit activities that ought to warrant concern.
Thus, it would not have been surprising to find out that Sunderland could release Adam Johnson for sexual activity with a minor. However, that is not exactly what happened. Chief Executive Margaret Byrne knew of disturbing details surrounding Johnson’s illicit sexual activity with a young girl, yet did not share all of this information with the team’s board, and allowed him to play for the club for months, until the day he plead guilty in court.
It can be quite disturbing to learn of the many details that Byrne chose to omit, in the face of adversity. The fact the Byrne is a former criminal attorney makes the matter all the worse. One might expect a leader for Sunderland to use her best judgment both as an emblem for the club and the law to set the proper example. Yet, she did not.
Now, the response to this steep shortcoming may manifest itself in many ways. I would like to focus on gender:
Few women hold such a position of high power within a football club, FIFA, etc. The emergence of such a leader brings about much excitement, but it also allows us to observe such a breath of fresh air with a microscope. The actions of black sheep are going to stick out like a sore thumb. With the great progress FIFA is making to ensure women have an increasing role, a case such as this is a great leap backward.
Unfortunately, many may use an event such as this as an implicit (or perhaps explicit) reason to exclude women and any influence they may carry from the game. It is my opinion that we should judge leaders as individuals, and in this case, hold Byrne accountable for her actions. However, it seems preposterous to let Byrne speak for all of women. Her ability, or lack thereof, to hold players accountable is purely a reflection of her, and only her. While I don’t believe she deserves a future role in soccer, the movement toward including women should carry on.