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Sure I can be offensive, but only in private so that’s okay

Richard Scudamore’s case – in which the Premier League chief executive was shown to have written e-mails deemed to be derogatory to women – has been discussed ad nauseam, so there’s little to be gained by going into the issue again in huge detail.

Suffice to say:

  • it is irrelevant that the e-mails were always intended to be private
  • it is irrelevant that the e-mails were leaked
  • it is irrelevant that anyone referred to in the e-mails was not offended by their content
  • it is irrelevant that female colleagues say Scudamore’s “conduct and behaviour have been beyond reproach”
  • it is irrelevant that he showed “a real sense of contrition”.

It’s actually irrelevant to talk about Scudamore the man, what he stands for, what he has achieved, even what he thinks about women.

The only thing that matters here is that the views were expressed and sent to another party. If I had sent an e-mail to a very good friend that had been racist or anti-gay or made derogatory remarks about a person with a disability, my only defence if it became public would be that it was always meant to remain private.

But that would be no defence at all – I had clearly expressed those views, the how and the where would not matter one iota.

Which brings us to the bigger picture here… if you believe that any form of electronic communication is protected by a magic cloak of anonymity you are sadly mistaken. Do not write that e-mail, do not post that Facebook comment, do not make that Twitter jibe, do not upload that photo that straddles the pin-thin line between humour and offence.

That’s it. End of. There are no exceptions. If you do not want what you say or do online to come back and bite you at any stage, then do not do it in the first place (and definitely not in the workplace).

And it is certainly no defence to attack the one who exposes you. Whether that person has a political or vengeful reason for revealing the content of your communications, it is the content that should be the focal point and not the whistleblower.

Finally, can we please get away from using the mealy-mouthed phrase that what was said or done was “inappropriate”. For inappropriate read crass, stupid, deeply offensive and totally unworthy of someone in a position of power and responsibility.

There are no excuses – racism, sexism, misogyny, bullying, homophobia (the list goes on) are utterly unacceptable and anybody found to hold such views or show behaviour that reflects them should be stripped of whatever post they hold and be made to feel the full weight of their public shame.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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