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Words matter, Ian Wright

The Arsenal legend speaks. Maybe he shouldn’t have.

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Before I even start talking about this, I want to say something. This is a very touchy topic, and it’s not something we’re writing about off the cuff or loosely. There has been a lot of discussion in our writer’s room about how (and whether) to approach this, but in light of the fact that SBN is running a campaign with It’s On Us this week, we felt like we should. This post has nothing to do with soccer, and nothing to do with this weekend’s games, and is only tangentially related to Arsenal - it’s about Heavy Life Issues.

This post carries a trigger warning for rape. If you’d rather just focus on the games, now’s your chance to find something you’d rather read about, no harm no foul.

There are a ton more details about the Ched Evans case and its history, and all its problems, in this Guardian piece, and you really should read it and get an understanding for why his case is and has been so problematic for so many people. What I want to focus on here is one of the reactions to today’s acquittal, from Arsenal legend turned pundit Ian Wright:

The first thing I need to acknowledge is that there is a lot of ambiguity in the wording of this tweet - it’s not clear what position Wright is taking in regards to Evans’ guilt or innocence, it’s not at all clear that he’s even taking a position, and it’s not clear whether the lives he’s referring to are that of the victim and her family or Evans and his family, or both. And as of now, with Wright not offering any followup tweet or soundbite, all we have is speculation as to his intent.

That said, though, it’s a tweet that can read multiple ways - my first read of it was as a sympathy-for-Ched sentiment, which made me want to scream “NO YOU IDIOT WHAT ABOUT THE WOMAN INVOLVED IN THIS”, but then, on further reads, I started thinking about it more, and the ambiguity I mentioned in the last paragraph came screaming out of the woodwork at me.

The tweet was ambiguous. It made his position on the case unclear, and left room for people to put their own spin on it. That spin, in cases like this, is generally towards the perpetrator, not the victim, and it significantly damages any attempts to address the elements of rape culture surrounding this case.

It could be that Wright, as a TV pundit, is aware that his words are read by a great many people and is purposely trying to be broad here, and that he was trying less to be ambiguous and more to be generic and bland. But linguistic precision is absolutely vital in cases like this, and the more a reader reads the tweet, the less precise it starts to sound.

There is something to be said for the sentiment of wishing his colleague luck in getting on with his life, but that sentiment generally only works when that coworker doesn’t do something horrific.

My main point is pretty much there in the headline: Words matter. And if you choose your words as ambiguously as Ian Wright did here, those words can do far more damage than good. And if that’s the case, Ian, maybe save your words?

(we are closing comments on this post.)