Ferdinand ban would send wrong message

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Rio Ferdinand finds himself at the centre of yet another race row just days after John Terry was cleared by Westminster Magistrates Court of a racially aggravated public order offence involving the Manchester United defender's brother, Anton.

The Chelsea captain was found not guilty of racially abusing Ferdinand Jnr, during a Premier League clash against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road last October, in a case that saw "mutual friend" Ashley Cole called as a witness for the defence.

Terry's defence centred on his claim he had only said the words 'f------ black c---' to deny using them after Ferdinand had accused him of saying it to him, during a heated on-pitch exchange that was captured on film, and posted to the internet within minutes of the final whistle.

Neither Anton or Rio have given an interview since the verdict was delivered by District Judge Howard Riddle, on Friday 6 July, but the United veteran has made a series of unsubtle references to the case, and his feelings about those involved, on Twitter.

During the trial the 33-year-old provocatively tweeted that his film of the day, was 'Liar, Liar', and the following morning he took to the social networking site to mention Steve Coogan's 'Cock and Bull story'. Coincidence?

But, what now threatens to land Ferdinand Snr in hot water, is his weekend response to a tweet that referred to Cole as a "choc ice" - a derogatory term often aimed at black people who are seen to be too keen to please white people - in reaction to the evidence given by his former England team-mate, who testified in support of Terry.

Ferdinand was quick to delete the tweet after receiving a barrage of abuse and criticism for using the phrase, adding: "What I said yesterday is not a racist term. Its a type of slang/term used by many for someone who is being fake. So there."

Too little, too late, I'm afraid. Despite Ferdinand's attempted justification of his comment, the twitter storm is already underway, and with it the controversy caused by the high-profile court case continues to rumble on.

Whilst there's no condoning Ferdinand's action, there is reason to suggest that his comments were posted without malicious intent. An in-depth investigation into the history of players and online posting is not required to establish the naivety behind many such incidents, and the apparent inability to foresee potential repercussions of 'throw-away quotes'.

Dark on the outside, but white on the inside, "choc ice" is most commonly understood to be a contemporary version of the "Uncle Tom" insult. Offensive or not, it is entirely plausible that in this instance there is no racial undertone, as was later suggested in a response from Cole's lawyers.

"Ashley Cole has been made aware of the discussion following comments appearing on Twitter and wishes to make it clear that he and Rio Ferdinand are good friends and Ashley has no intention of making any sort of complaint. Ashley appreciates that tweeting is so quick it often results in off-hand and stray comments."

Ferdinand's social networking behaviour leaves a lot to be desired, particularly as an elder statesman, and role model in today's English game, and as one of the original high-profile sportsmen to embrace the social media revolution. But, he does not deserve to be vilified for his most recent failings. He has been punished enough already.

After being controversially left out of the England squad by manager Roy Hodgson for the European Championships, while Terry played in every game in Poland and Ukraine, the case involving his brother at QPR has already taken away the defender's last opportunity for international honour at a major tournament.

Although Hodgson insisted his decision was solely down to "football reasons", everyone knows the animosity between the two former centre-back partners meant Ferdinand and Terry could no longer play in the same team together.

Whatever the euphemism, the actual issue at hand is a much wider problem than the focus currently surrounding individuals involved with this isolated incident. An FA investigation will undoubtedly follow, but is it the right course of action? The vicious underbelly of social networking is, after all, a fair - if often exaggerated - reflection of today's society.

Such industrial language is commonplace on the football pitch, and will inevitably be transmitted onto the internet, with the wave of players signing up for a role in the online social media soap opera. That doesn't make it right. It's just a fact.

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