Skirting the Issue - The sorry tale of Andy Gray

There is nothing as sad as a sexist man - except of course a sexist man who thinks every woman in the planet is ready to fall at his feet, overwhelmed by his masculine musky smell and rounded beer belly.

Oh Andy Gray, as much as I would like to defend you just now, you have made it so impossible. Yes, the former footballer and Sky Sports Commentator has been unceremoniously given the heave-ho by the broadcaster for the offence of “unacceptable and offensive” behaviour.

His bosses at Sky were, of course, referring to several sexist episodes in his recent past. At a recent Liverpool v Wolves match he was most perplexed that a female linesperson, Sian Massey, was on duty that day. (For my fellow columnist at the back end of the paper, I would say a catch-all expression such as ‘linesperson’ is a perfectly acceptable way to describe the people on the pitch who help the Ref).

Wondering if he should explain the offside rule to her and then commenting that he “wouldn’t” (as in wouldn’t respond in a sexual manner, him being such a fine and hunky specimen of manhood) Mr Gray made a fool of himself.

Now up until this point I kind of felt sorry for poor wee Andy. I thought that although his comments were crass and ill thought out, he had just been taking part in a little bit of banter with his colleagues.

To be honest, I thought that really we shouldn’t expect much more from a sad little man desperately trying to hang on to his glory days as an international footballer and convince himself he was still some sort of catch.

I even went as far as to say to my colleagues that I thought there had been a bit of a gross over-reaction on the part of Sky and that his faux pas - distasteful as it was - was hardly a sacking offence.

But then more information came to light - reports that he made lewd and suggestive comments to a female colleague while trying to act the big man in front of his friends - and the whole thing took an altogether more sour turn.

Now, I’m not some bra-burning, flag waving feminist who thinks all men are born inherently faulty but I do think that a man treating women as inferior beings, especially those who work alongside them in a professional capacity, is completely unacceptable.

I work in a male dominated environment where your skin doesn’t need just to be thick, it needs to be coated in Kevlar, but it’s accepted that there are some places you just don’t go.

There is banter, and there is crossing the line. Banter can of course either be funny or actually just a bit cringeworthy (such as the “shall I explain the offside rule” kind of cringeworthy...). Crossing the line, well... by it’s very definition it crosses the line.

Any man who thinks it is acceptable to ask a female colleague to tuck his microphone wire into his crotch before laughing uproariously at her embarrassment is crossing the line.

Any man who cannot accept that an industry - even one as male dominated as football - now welcomes women into their inner sanctum is crossing the line.

The world changes - and there are men out there who would need to be more than well aware of that.

Women have just as much right to be on the sidelines of a football match as any man (and I think Miss Massey proved that) and female colleagues have a right to work in an environment where they are not considered fair game for the office letch just because they have long hair and pee sitting down.

It’s not exactly rocket science to be aware that there are certain things you just can’t say or do in a workplace.

If they need me to come and explain it to them I can - I’ll even bring a flipchart, coloured markers and some pictures to make it easier for them to understand.

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And on a more sombre note...

Like most of Derry I was genuinely saddened this week to learn of the death of former Mayor of Derry Kathleen McCloskey.

As a journalist working in Derry I had occasion to meet with and work with Kathleen on many occasions and she truly was an inspiration.

In her role as a Councillor she worked tirelessly for the ordinary people of Derry. Happy out of the political limelight, she spent her time dealing with real, on the ground issues.

She was known for her down to earth manner and her courage in the face of a long illness was remarkable.

She was a real lady - who always had time to listen, to chat and to make sure you had a cup of tea in your hand.

No doubt many people who knew Kathleen would describe her as “salt of the earth” and she was - one of a breed of strong, determined Derry women who made a difference to the lives of many people.

Her passing will definitely be a loss, not only to her political party and to her family, but to Derry as a whole.

May you rest in peace Kathleen.