Three things. One: Emmanuel Frimpong was plain stupid. Two: The fine of £6,000 was pathetic. Three: I nevertheless find it hard not to sympathise him.
As you probably know, the Arsenal midfielder has been fined £6,000 and warned over his future behaviour after admitting to an FA charge of improper conduct.
His mistake was to react to abuse from a fan who tweeted him with the message: “I prayed you break your arms and legs.”
Frimpong’s brain was clearly not switched on when he then retweeted the comment along with the comment “Scum Yid.”
Yes, foolish, idiotic, tasteless, racist. All that.
However, I sympathise because: 1) he was simply returning fire. He did not lay the first punch. 2) We have all been in situations, surely, when we have let loose an email or an SMS or a tweet that we instantly regret, that we desperately try to recall. It’s easy, you act and think of the consequences a millisecond too late. That is only human, no? 3) He is a 20-year-old footballer.
We need to dwell on this last point. Frimpong is a footballer, not a philosopher. He is paid to play professional football, not to be a lightening rod for social mores.
I suspect that he had no racist intention in his response, that he was probably simply repeating a slack and over-used term of abuse that is so tediously applied to Spurs. I am not saying that is OK, it is not. It is lazy, but I can understand lazy behaviour.
But this story, sadly, is less about lazy behaviour and more about our misplaced expectations and the view that footballers are natural role-models.
Footballers spend their entire youth working and training and very often ignoring their education. Then suddenly, the rare and lucky few make it all the way through to the top of the game, poke their heads up into the big wide world and the view of TV cameras and they become famous and are expected to have become the models of socially and ethical correct behaviour. They are trained to have good ball control, but suddenly that is not enough.
There is a disconnect here: footballer does not equal role model. Never has done. Nevertheless, the game’s authorities have a responsibility to try, at least, to get the one a little closer to the other. That is why it was right to fine Frimpong.
But here is another issue. If you are going to punish him, then do it properly. If you are going to fine him, then make it hurt.
By punishing Frimpong, the FA is making a statement to three different audiences. It is giving the player himself a wrap over the knuckles, it is telling professional footballers at large that loose abuse on Twitter is not acceptable, and, crucially, it is passing on the message to the millions of fans who follow football that Frimpong had crossed a line.
However, if the FA is to decide to take action like this, then it has to look as though it generally means it.
At Euro 2012, Uefa was responsible for being similarly half-hearted. Mario Balotelli was racially abused by hordes of Croatian fans and the response of Uefa was to fine the Croatian FA £65,000. And everyone knew that this would not really hurt either the Croatia FA nor the fans.
It is the same with Frimpong. He has unwittingly wandered into territory in which he does not belong and if the FA believes that this warrants punishment, then a proper punishment is required. A fine of £6,000, for a footballer, is not a proper punishment. It is a token statement.
If the FA really means this, if it really wants to dictate the behaviour of its players, then making a decision is not enough. It must make loud statements, bold decisions and apply hefty fines that will hurt.