Once again this week, it has been left to former footballer and Match Of The Day lead presenter Gary Lineker to question some of the more upfront bigotry being passed off as mere banter, or, worse, informed comment. Some have questioned why he, seemingly alone among sports stars past and present, is standing up to the bigots and saloon-bar loudmouths. And the reality there is beyond sobering.
Yesterday, Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, former Oberscheissenführer of the motley assemblage of political has-beens and rejects at UKIP, was invited to pass comment on the political situation in the USA. Farage, an unashamed fan of Combover Crybaby Donald Trump, was as ever pleased to oblige. During his exposition, he referred to Barack Obama as “that creature”. The dog-whistle animal reference, denoting true racism, was clear.
Lineker, having seen many of his club and country’s team-mates bear the brunt of bigotry over the years, picked that one up immediately. “I don't suppose Farage calling President Obama a 'creature' is in any way racist?” he asked. Mr Thirsty may have been emboldened by early morning scoops. But he was still out of order.
Others across Twitter had been emboldened by newspapers like the Sun and Mail kicking Lineker, and the idea that those who appear on telly are not entitled to their views because some no-mark at the Murdoch or Rothermere press says so. To them he had the reminder “Slightly odd to be castigated by some for giving 'my views' on 'my twitter feed'. If they irk you so, then unfollow. Simple!” TV personality allowed own views No Shock Horror.
He was, however, realistic about prospects of facing down the unpleasantness, replying to the suggestion that haters would not win with “@EricStoller well they might. But we've got to do our best to stop them”. And then came the most telling comment.
After James McKelvie Tweeted appreciatively “just wanted to throw an appreciative tweet your way: thanks for speaking up on here like you do” and Graham Linehan added “agreed. I hate that you're so exposed. Wish other stars were brave enough to speak up and support you”, Lineker conceded “thank you both. I don't think it's fear of Twitter responses that makes others refrain, more a newspaper backlash”. Think about that next time someone from the tabloid press kicks off about “free speech”.
And to Craig Bell, who dismissively replied “So strange, PR, it's all folk seem to think about. Today's newspaper is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper”, Lineker reminded us all “easy to say that if you've never been on the receiving end of their vituperation” (one of those difficult words that so upset Kelvin McFilth). My good friend Peter Jukes added “Let alone their hacking, bugging, blagging, bribing cops, accessing medical records”.
The popular press and its cheerleaders tells us that they are in favour of freedom of speech, but woe betide any celebrity who steps out of line. For them, the fear of long lenses poking through the hedge, the need to keep curtains closed even in Summer, their kids’ schoolmates badgered, work colleagues harassed, and extensive use of the Dark Arts keeps them in line. They are not entitled to their opinion, their freedom to speak.
The hypocrites of the Fourth Estate rule by fear, even among the celebrity class.