Gary Lineker: Have a word with yourself

Dear Gary,

You’re an alright bloke, y’know. You were a decent player, blah blah, you’ve given a home to a Ukrainian refugee, you trigger the Daily Mail and its associated panto villains on an hourly basis, and mostly you know what you’re talking about on Match of the Day (something few pundits can state with confidence). You also really piss people off by shamelessly selling crisps. I respect that.

You made a crap joke on Twitter at 20:30 last night. Minutes after the verdict in the Depp/Heard case, you burst onto my timeline with this:

You haven’t deleted it despite a backlash and I’m guessing you stand by it. Many of your tweets inflame the nation, so why am I moved to write you an open letter about this one?

Indulge me.

You’re one of the few people in this godforsaken country that people listen to. Admittedly it’s usually through the honk of Micah Richard’s laughter and about VAR, but it still counts. What you say, and how you process the news is your chosen brand despite what your BBC bosses have to say about it. Perhaps more importantly, football fans listen to you and respect you in this scenario. We know that people identifying as male make up the majority of Premier League followers in the UK (Statista, 2020).

It took me less than thirty seconds to google and verify that statement. You have 8.4m followers on Twitter. I know the Finalissima and Scotland vs. Ukraine were both on, but would it have disrupted the merriment too much to have googled whether it’s appropriate to take the piss out of a court case involving domestic violence?

While social media and news agencies have encouraged the public to consume this trial in the same spirit with which they consumed The Staircase or Making A Murderer, none of these things are entertainment. Regardless of the case specifics, offering up the protagonists’ stories for dissection and fans trading blows on the internet with #TeamDepp or #TeamHeard as their flaming torches is simply pandering to the basest of our instincts and it’s ugly.

More importantly, every person who has cowered under the influence of their abuser has taken a huge journey, that may very well not be at an end, to get to the place where they can acknowledge what has happened to them, and even further to feel able to confide in another person. To see a flicker of doubt in the eyes of that person – are you exaggerating, I don’t see any bruises, are you sure you’re not misreading it, you’re being a bit selfish, have you thought about reframing it, but your partner is so lovely – is almost worse than the abuse itself.

Emotional abuse is beautiful like that. If you’ve experienced it for long enough, it can reduce self-confidence to zero AND erode personal boundaries to the point where you’re completely unable to make a decision about your own life without questioning where all this is indeed, your fault.

What the media serialisation of a former couple’s complicated and apparently deeply unhealthy relationship has done is given a huge blast of oxygen to that flicker of doubt. The optimism of #MeToo, fraught with chasms and critiques as it was, has been extinguished.

But Depp was vindicated, you cry.

I want to be very clear, the details are immaterial, the rights and wrongs of this specific case do not matter. Why? Because this case was livestreamed into millions of homes, the first domestic violence dispute to be consumed as content with braying stans whose fandom dictated their allegiance long before a word of evidence was given. It was also ubiquitous, however hard you tried to avoid it you had these snippets of horror thrust into your consciousness.

If you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse each detail is a gut punch. The concerted attempt to dismiss Heard as a narcissist; the prosecution’s assertion she had “BPD” and was thus an unreliable witness, or, worse, the abuser herself. DARVO as blockbuster entertainment. Once again, the specifics are irrelevant because this echoes the experience of so many victims of domestic abuse; “don’t believe her, she’s crazy”. And credulous onlookers hungrily devouring it. They see footage of Depp shouting and slamming doors and flinch. All the while haunted by the thought; if no one believes a celebrity, what chance have I got?

None of the evidence given in this case was remotely funny. It was a portrait of human beings in crisis. Domestic abuse victims might not always cut a sympathetic figure, they may be chaotic and messy, and defeated by the entire ordeal. Do these people matter less? Are they less deserving of escape?

Maybe to you this was a very public soap opera worthy only of a dad gag. To anyone who’s been there, it was an unavoidable trauma with every cheap abuser’s trope being repeated like a mantra branded on their consciousness. The prosecution asserted “PTSD is easy to fake” and a world of victims were forced to ask – is it me? Am I crazy? Was it my fault? You do all of these victims a disservice trading in their ongoing trauma for a cheap pun.

I doubt you’ll read this. But I hope my followers – many of whom are football fans, male and female, some who’ve shared their very personal experiences with me about the abuse they’ve suffered – read it and feel some comfort. I hope the rest, even the ones who like you made light of it, will consider their audience a little more before doing so next time.

And on that bombshell… have a great summer. Do some reading.

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