Harriet Robson Showed Us The Real Greenwood - But That Was Just The Beginning
Since recent allegations have surfaced against footballer Mason Greenwood, Antony Haslam explores the toxic 'untouchability' of so-called stars, how this can impact young and impressionable fans and why some men really just don't 'get it' on Twitter.
Image description: Lara Egan is an artist currently in her third year at Edinburgh College of Art studying Painting. Her work is based on 'derealisation communicated through the female form'. The work is from a personal point of view. "The feeling that your body is no longer your own and your form is just fluid shapes no longer belonging to you, but the surroundings around you. This is expressed through gestural mark-making and flesh like tones, creating a sense of intimacy but also disconnection."
Pocketing sixty grand a week is, for most people, totally unimaginable. For the average Premier League footballer, it’s their reality.
Don’t get me wrong, football is a big business and so, arguably, it’s all relative. The astronomical wages that many players receive reflect the amount of money involved in sponsorship and the rights to televise games. Whatever your stance on the Prem’s romance with cash, that is largely a debate for another time.
That said, a conversation that we need to be having right now concerns recent events with Mason Greenwood, which can be linked to the unfettered proliferation of money in the sport over recent years. Young players are being offered obscene amounts of money, and the sense of entitlement that these contracts imbue is creating a generation of young footballers who exist in a realm of power akin to Hollywood stars.
Last February, Greenwood – who earns just under £4m yearly – signed a contract tying him to Manchester United until 2025. At the end of January, almost exactly a year down the line, he was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault. At just twenty years old, he faces allegations that, if convicted, will not only end his career but likely see him spend a considerable amount of time behind bars. This is far from a call for sympathy for him. If found guilty of the allegations, then he deserves nothing less. Contrary to what he may believe, he is not above the law and should be treated accordingly for the physical and emotional trauma that he will have caused his victim.
This has occurred against the backdrop of twenty-seven-year-old Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy facing nine charges, including seven of rape and one count of sexual assault. Closer to Edinburgh, we have just seen Raith Rovers’ controversial signing of David Goodwillie, who was found by a Civil Court in 2017 to have raped a woman. There has been a widespread backlash against the Kirkcaldy team’s move to sign Goodwillie, including two sponsors severing ties.
The video that triggered Greenwood’s arrest was originally posted by Harriet Robson on Instagram. It shows her with a heavily bleeding lip, as well as several photos of large bruises on her body. This precedes a voice recording, seemingly taken while they are sharing a bed, in which Greenwood appears to say, “I don’t care if you don’t want to have sex with me”. This abusive behaviour is the manifestation of someone with a sense of entitlement, reinforced by a seven-figure salary, who believes that their partner – or, rather, the victim – will not stand up to their behaviour. This perceived impunity stems from a sense of superiority that Greenwood’s money, fame and status sustains. His total disregard for a woman’s right to refuse sex is the product of a privileged lifestyle in which he is unused to being told ‘no’.
The wellbeing and future of the victim is, of course, the primary concern. However, what followed the posting of the video on Twitter is arguably just as serious, pointing to the continued and pervasive (mis)understanding of the concept of consent. The conversation that ensued was worryingly telling of the scale and nature of the epidemic of sexual violence in the UK today.
Twitter, once again, brought to light just how serious an issue men and boys seem to have with understanding what consent means. One Tweet, since deleted, asked: “Why would Greenwood’s girlfriend refuse him sex? Why are you even in a relationship if you’re going to deny your significant other the benefits of a relationship?”. The implication that one gives up their right to redact their consenting to sex when they enter a relationship is a scarily common fallacy. Consent once does not mean consent at any time. A relationship is not a binding contract that permanently foregoes one’s bodily autonomy. Clearly, though, Greenwood’s self-entitled and warped disregard for Robson’s right to choose when to have sex is an indication that he didn't get that memo.
The relation this bears to the wider culture of football is significant. The *young* man’s Twitter account proudly displays that he is a Barcelona fan. I’m guessing he loves football. He probably lives and breathes the game and idolises young players like Greenwood. To people like him, Greenwood and countless other successful young players are a twenty-first-century version of George and Lennie’s American Dream. They have the money, fame and future that so many desire. Paradoxically, though, the very wealth that made Greenwood an aspirational figure is the same wealth that I believe contributed to the perversion of his ability to treat his partner as a fellow human being.
I can only imagine the incredible bravery that it took for Robson to record that incident in bed. She must have known that without such tangible evidence, claims against her abuser would have been laughed away and she’d have faced an enormous backlash from his fans. Not only this but as pointed out by many on Twitter, the fact that she was recording suggests that this was far from a one-off event. It is entirely plausible that this pattern of abusive behaviour had been an ongoing feature of their relationship. An ongoing and private dimension of their life was found behind the glitz and glam of the lifestyle he displays to his fans. It is equally plausible to imagine that there are other victims trapped in abusive relationships with powerful young footballers. This isn’t to take away from the potential for any relationship to turn abusive. Rather, it is to point out that the wealth and status of some young, highly-paid players are combined with individual pathology to form a toxic cocktail that encourages the perceived impunity of their image, leaving their victims feeling hopeless to speak out about violence and abuse.
Maybe the aggression in Greenwood’s voice when he says, “I don’t give a fuck what you want” is just who he is, and the abusive relationship he controlled is a reflection of his own twisted morality. However, feeling entitled to sex on-demand is at least encouraged by the £20m work contract he signed, and being prepared to use physical and emotional violence against a woman who stands in the way of this is the ultimate demonstration that he felt well and truly above the law.
While there is a lot to be admired about many young players, and I am not suggesting that it is at all wrong for young people to have figures to look up to, we must ask ourselves who we are idolising and why. Marcus Rashford MBE – 24 years of age – used his status and voice to bring about a government U-turn on free school meals. He earned his role-model status, and there are countless other young players with stories that we can admire. However, the idea that all footballers are worthy of admiration simply for being stars on the field is an increasingly uncomfortable thought. We know so little about their private lives and how they handle the power dynamics that often exist in their relationships. We cannot separate the private and public figure, excusing one in favour of the other.
What, then, of the lessons learned? Well, Twitter continues to be a worryingly ungoverned environment, in which vile abuse (behind the safety of a screen) is allowed to go relatively unchecked. And we, as men and boys, have once again shown that there is an issue amongst many of us with understanding what consent is. I would suggest a good place to start in stopping these attitudes prevailing, would be questioning our blind idolisation of footballers, whose personal lives we clearly know too little about. We must also ask whether the money that young players earn is affording them a perceived impunity and power complex that combines with individual immorality to create truly sick individuals. It is possible, then, that these individuals transfer attitudes of objectification from possessions onto women, and believe violence is an acceptable tool to use against those who stand in their way.