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If John Terry is found guilty, should he be allowed to continue playing football?

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John Terry faces trial today at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a racially aggravated public order offence, after he allegedly shouted a racist comment at QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

The incident occurred during a Premier League match on October 23rd last year and was seemingly caught on camera. Terry’s lawyer entered a not guilty plea in February. 

The England and Chelsea player was stripped of his England captaincy by the Football Association (FA) earlier in February. The FA were criticised at the time for merely removing the captaincy instead of suspending him, leading many to argue the rules for him are different to those for others. In 2004 Rio Ferdinand (ironically Anton’s brother) was suspended before the Euros during the wait for his drug test results. Action against Terry has evidently been viewed in a ‘innocent until proven guilty’ light.

Let’s put this into context.  If an office worker was caught on tape calling his colleague the n-word, there is no doubt he would be suspended on full pay until trial, where, if he was found guilty, he would almost certainly be fired. Those arguing that Terry’s punishment from the court will be sufficient are misguided; his maximum fine if convicted will be £2,500. This would take himapproximately two and a half hours of work to pay off. For a man who has a net worth of £26 million, £2,500 is pocket change.

Terry’s indiscretion turns the spotlight, once again, to the discussion of racism in football, an issue well concealed, but not dealt with. Ashley Young and Ashley Cole recently suffered racist abuse at the hands of Twitter trolls after the Euro competitions and in 2011 Luis Suarez was accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra. Suarez was subsequently charged £40,000 and suspended for eight matches. Although still not sufficient, his punishment had more resonance than a £2,500 court fine would have. Dealing with racism in football is a huge feat, but strong action against Terry may even turn a positive corner by sending out a message.

Despite this, I don’t think Terry should be stopped from playing. Not forever, anyway. Although serious consequences need to be handed down, banning him for life seems excessive. However, we must remember this is the man who slept with a team mate's ex-girlfriend, attempted to gain an injunction so
it didn’t get out, lost his captaincy and then regained it the following year. He was also fined wages after a disrespectful incident between Americans and players soon after the 9/11 attacks. From all reports he seems to have earned his most hated man in football reputation and for someone in the spotlight, a prominent player in a well-known club, he sets a very negative example. 

No man that allegedly abuses his team mate should be let off easily. At the end of the day, his team mate is his colleague. I’m sure the majority of us wouldn’t dream of speaking to a colleague in that way the heat of the moment and if we did, we would be out a job. Terry’s fame, fortune and talent should not affect that. 

The spotlight will be on Chelsea this week when the verdict is announced, and many will be analysing their following actions. Permanent removal of his Chelsea captaincy should be obvious and unquestioned. Suspension should also be a given, for a serious period of time. There isn’t much point punishing him financially. Even if the fine was bigger than Suarez’s £40,000, what amount of money would do any damage? Even if he were fined £200,000 he’d have it back by next Thursday. Money, unfortunately, is pointless. Removing his captaincy, suspending him from games (ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty!) would be headed in the right direction.

Although I would prefer never to see John Terry on a pitch again and would take great pleasure in him being banned, one offence said out of anger at the time doesn’t seem to warrant banning him forever. Plus, if most other Premier League players were in a similar situation it seems incredibly unlikely that ending their careers would even be discussed. Whether John Terry made a mistake and said something stupid or whether he is a racist, Chelsea need to be seen to be coming down hard on him and remembering that no man is bigger than the club – although when considering men in such powerful positions, a solution is difficult.

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