John Terry trial begins in London; clash of cultures evident

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All the expected unpleasantness is indeed tumbling out today in England during John Terry’s trial for racial abuse directed toward Anton Ferdinand, who is black.

The trial began today in London.

Lots of very bad words are being spoken and discussed as prosecutors pursue charges of a racially aggravated public order offense.

None of this is amusing stuff; one of the land’s most high-profile athletes, an England international and Chelsea captain, is accused of some very ugly actions. But there is a certain fascinating clash of cultures here.

On one side is a more genteel, refined set who preside over a cultivated UK court system.  They are asking about usage and context of words that, when spoken on the street (or a soccer field), come from a far more primal place, where no one would dare drag “usage” and “context” into the streetwise proceedings.

On the other side are grown men who play a boys game – but who frequently act like boys and are much less familiar, generally, with the high-brow and the high-minded elements of London life.

It’s the “making the sausage” factor. We all know this more ignoble stuff, the daily ways of the great unwashed, are part of the game. Still, no one relishes actually airing the players’ verbal dirty laundry.

To wit: Here is the opening statement from prosecutor Duncan Penny:

“The crown alleges that the words he used demonstrated hostility based on Mr. Ferdinand’s membership or presumed membership of a racial group. …

The crown alleges that the defendant, most probably in response to physical gestures being made by Mr. Ferdinand, which the defendant understood to refer to the well-publicized allegation of an extramarital affair with a team-mate’s wife, shouted at Mr. Ferdinand …

The crown’s case is that the words were abusive and insulting in a straightforward sense and that the term ‘[expletive] black [expletive]’ was uttered as an abusive insult demonstrating hostility based on Mr. Ferdinand’s membership of a racial group. They were uttered by the defendant in response to goading by Mr. Ferdinand on the issue of his extramarital affair, rather than by way of exaggerated and instant querying of a perceived false allegation.”