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Should sports stars be judged purely on their sporting prowess or is the media right to expose their failings?

On the 28th November 2009, Tiger Woods crashed his car outside his house in Florida (BBC, 2009). Questions surrounding the incident focused on the golfer’s personal life with wife, Elin Nordegren, and allegations of infidelity were rife. The number one golfer asked for press to leave his family alone, calling it a “private matter” (USA Today, 2009). However, by the time he admitted infidelity, the press had done everything except leave him alone. The matter highlighted the question, should sports stars be judged solely on their sporting prowess or does the press have a right to expose their personal failings?

It is a generally accepted view that, as public figures, sports stars should expect their lives to be strewn across both sides of the newspapers. As a general rule, the greater the sporting prowess, the greater the scandal and the more coverage it demands. However, it could be argued that their private lives are their own business and it is unfair to those close to them to expose it to the general public. A further point for consideration is the difference between affairs, harmful to only those directly involved, and views that could hurt a much wider range of people. The latter would appear to warrant a much greater public interest discussion.

In 2009, Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world, even if it was his first major-less year since 2004. The following years were expected to be the ones where he overtook Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major tournaments (Corrigan, 2009), rather they have turned into a sad decline of a former great, which began with the allegations of infidelity. At the time of the car crash, Tiger Woods was the first billionaire in sport, with his money through sponsorship and tournament money only rising (Corrigan, 2009).

Although Woods said: “I am dealing with my behaviour and personal failings behind closed doors with my family. Those feelings should be shared by us alone” and later added: “personal sins should not require press releases” (Reuters, 2009), there was almost no scenario in which the press wouldn’t get involved with this story. It took two weeks for Woods to admit infidelity, mainly as a result of the 24-hour press coverage, which included many tales from women who claimed to have affairs with Woods (Dahlberg, 2009 (1) Associated Press, cited in Fox News). Woods’ ordeal highlights the view that the greater the sports star, the greater the coverage.

Journalist Tim Dahlberg said: “He could have tested positive for steroids and life would have gone on … begin having questions raised about your moral behaviour, though, and things change.” Dahlberg argues that the press response to the Woods scandal was a direct result of his image as a “good family man and father” (Dahlberg, 2009 (2) Associated Press, cited in Yahoo). Even if affairs are personal issues that deserve to be dealt with behind closed doors, the collapse of an image used partly to gain money through sponsorship is certainly worth exposing.

Adultery committed by sports stars is not a problem limited to America. In Britain, the two highest profile cases both involve footballers at the very top of the sport. Ryan Giggs won more club trophies than any other player in history and further collected many personal achievements, including Sports Personality of the Year in 2009 and an OBE for services to football in 2007. In May 2011, a case appeared before the High Court in London, entitled CTB v News Group Newspapers concerning the reveal of a sexual relationship between model Imogen Thomas and an un-named footballer (CTB v News Group Newspapers Ltd, 2011).

During the case, Mr Justice Eady said: “It will rarely be the case that the privacy rights of an individual or of his family will have to yield in priority to another’s right to publish” (CTB v News Group Newspapers Ltd, 2011, para 33), implying he holds the view that sports stars should be judged on sporting prowess alone, or at least not on their personal lives. However, Justice Eady’s view didn’t stop Giggs’ identity being revealed.

It could be argued that the media storm that followed would be harsh on Giggs, however this wasn’t the first time he had been involved in infidelity allegations. Between 2003 and 2011, he was involved in a relationship with his brother’s wife, Natasha, including after Giggs’ wedding in 2007 (Curtis, 2015). While there is an argument to make that both bear little news values, there is another which says Ryan Giggs is in a position of power, thus should be held to certain values. As Danny Wilson, Giggs’ Dad, said: “I don’t see how the players can trust him after what he did to his brother” (Akerman, 2014). There is a valid argument to allowing sport stars to be judged on their personal lives if their failings can affect their work life.

In addition, John Terry was England captain when a super-injunction was lifted which accused him of having an extra marital affair with teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend, Vanessa Perroncel (BBC, 2010). Ms Perroncel has denied the allegations (Davies, 2010), however that hasn’t stopped people speculating and judging Terry based on the story.

There is a view that people such as Terry, Giggs and Woods are role models and hence should be held to a certain standard. But it is also assumed that the average person is unlikely to commit adultery because Terry, Giggs and Woods did it. While Woods shouldn’t present himself as a family man if he isn’t, neither Giggs nor Terry has actively done that in their career and thus there is less of an element of need for their personal lives to be exposed. As we’ve seen, Giggs’ trustworthiness is worthy of consideration, however are there enough failings to judge the man? Infidelity shouldn’t happen, and should never be encouraged or swept under the carpet yet there needs to be a consideration of the merits of keeping personal lives personal.

John Terry’s failings have been in the news regularly during his career. From taunting American tourists following 9/11 (Clegg and Orwall, 2010) to allegations of accepting bribes to give known ticket-touts tours of Chelsea’s training complex (Fifield, 2009), Terry’s misdemeanours have never been far from the front pages. John Terry is at the top of the football hierarchy in England so it makes sense that his life is under more scrutiny than someone playing in a lower league. Thus, it would appear logical that his name appears connected to more news stories however it still seems like he is at the heart of more scandals than most. Wherever you stand on this debate, it would appear wise to let the media expose John Terry’s failings.

That is especially true when they could potentially harm a wide range of people. Terry was cleared of racially abusing fellow professional Anton Ferdinand on the 13th July 2012 (BBC, 2012 (1)) however he has been brandished a racist ever since. While the media was initially correct in exposing the story, it could be argued that they haven’t done enough since to quash the generally held belief about Terry.

Contrastingly, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry’s defensive partner for a long time with England, although one who appears in the front of a newspaper less frequently, didn’t face a media hounding for a potentially racist tweet. Indeed, he was allowed the chance to explain it rather than be judged for it (Kelly, 2012), although this may be because Ashley Cole, the subject of the tweet, refused to take any action against it. Whether that is the reason or not, the press has a clear duty to avoid favouritism. Failures are failures, no matter their sporting prowess and no matter their relationship with Fleet Street.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle in our society. However, it has always been limited to avoiding hatred or persecution. That limits what can be said between people out of the public eye but should, and indeed does, limit what people who are role models for young children say. There are two ways to stop the spread of discrimination, better education and better role models. Applying that logic, anything offensive said by a sports star has to be equally and universally condemned by all the media.

“There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the Devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia.” Those are the words of heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury (Kervin, 2015), and they are quite clearly offensive. He is comparing homosexuality to paedophiles, and saying it shouldn’t be legal. As Paul Hayward wrote for the Telegraph: “To argue for homosexuality to be illegal is not an “opinion”. It is a call for persecution” (Hayward, 2015).

Persecuting a wide range of people is not something that should be tolerated in life, especially not by someone who has the potential to influence how others think. It’s not like this was the first time Fury had aired inflammatory comments. He once said about his wife “sometimes she needs an upper cut” (Rayner, 2015). Fury, in arguing against homosexuality and seemingly in favour of domestic violence, is spreading hate and thus should be condemned for it. These are failures that need to be exposed, despite his prowess.

Despite this, a petition to get him removed from BBC sports personality of the year (Rayner, 2015) failed to work and BBC gave him the chance to speak at the event, the opposite of condemnation. There are those that say the BBC were right to do this. One blog compared it to Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, saying that not being allowed to speak “would just have given him a martyr status” (jmsblogs, 2015). In the media, Julia Hartley-Brewer of the Telegraph wrote that: “just because Fury is an eminent sportsperson, it doesn’t mean that he is required to conform to a particular set of socially accepted views” (Hartley-Brewer, 2015). Both of these views are hinting that the media should judge sports stars purely on their sporting prowess.

While there is an inclination towards that view with extra-marital affairs, there is less of one when considering offensive views. Comparing sports to politics is commonplace nowadays, however far wing politicians are expected to have derogatory views of people, whereas sports stars aren’t. Hartley-Brewer also said that last time she checked: “boxers weren’t making our laws or teaching our children … so who cares what he thinks about anything other than boxing?” (Hartley-Brewer, 2015). While she isn’t wrong in theory, in practice children are more likely to listen to Fury than a teacher or a politician so the media has more of a duty to condemn failings that could hurt vulnerable individuals.

In this discussion so far, the sports stars talked about have all been at the top of their sports. That makes sense, as the higher the profile, the more interested the media are in their stories. However, sports stars failing are not limited to the elite few, shown by one of the biggest sports stars controversy in recent years.

Ched Evans was forging a decent, if unspectacular, career with Sheffield United when he was convicted of raping a drunken 19-year-old on the 20th April 2012 (BBC, 2012 (2)). He served his sentence, but hasn’t been able to return to football. Sheffield United honoured Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill by naming a stand after her, one that she threatened to remove if the club ever signed Evans again (BBC, 2014). Oldham Athletic then looked into signing him, at least until a petition with over 30,000 signatures was signed blocking the move (BBC, 2015) and he is still without a club.

Evans has always protested his innocence, and even if he is not, he served his time. The media have exposed his failings, but maybe because of it people are now refusing to let him get on with his career. While there are many sides to this story, it is a point for consideration, although it is hard to disagree with the initial media storm against the footballer. To understand whether the media blocked his future career, more case studies are needed.

Contrastingly, Luke McCormick (BBC, 2013) and Lee Hughes (BBC, 2007) both found clubs following prison sentences for death by dangerous driving. Interestingly, Hughes signed for Oldham, with the club asking: “supporters and the general public not to pass moral judgement” (BBC, 2007), although that question was not obviously posed concerning the Evans signing. Furthermore, Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Amir has returned to domestic cricket after serving time and a ban for spot fixing in 2010, with Pakistan saying he has been made available for international selection (ESPNCricinfo, 2015).

In all three cases, the media exposed and exploited each of the individuals before, during and a little after the jail sentences. This would appear to highlight the Ched Evans case as fundamentally different. His lack of a job would then mean that it’s down to the public reaction to the nature of the crime rather than the media’s role.

In the on-going debate between failings and sporting prowess, attention must be drawn to talented players who always had a darker side, players such as Paolo Di Canio, Eric Cantona and Duncan Ferguson. Ferguson was the first British football player to go to jail for an offence committed on the pitch, after he head-butted Raith Rovers’ Jock McStay in 1994 (Pattullo, 2014, 30). He was also one of the most talented Scottish strikers of his generation, even if that talent wasn’t always on show. Inconsistent in the extreme, the head-butt and strangling of Leicester’s Steffen Freund meant he featured in the front pages of the papers a lot. Clearly the media were right to expose his failings.

On the other hand, Ferguson had a reputation with those that knew him as being a quiet and shy but polite individual (Pattullo, 2014). Thus, should the media report on the other side in order to keep coverage fair? While Cantona and Di Canio are perhaps more positively remembered, outside of Goodison Park, Ferguson is not. Prowess took precedence for some, failings for others.

That lack of consistency can be explained in Ferguson’s case. He never helped himself on the pitch and, by refusing to talk to the press for the majority of his career, did little to pamper journalists. Alan Pattullo wrote in his book In Search of Duncan Ferguson, “It is easy to form the impression that Ferguson loved no one – except perhaps Everton fans” (Pattullo, 2014, 32). If the media has a right to expose failings, they should also perhaps have an obligation to paint a fair picture, as the Ferguson example proves. For players such as Luis Suarez, Britain’s media has failed to present even a slightly softer side.

Sports stars have always spent their working lives in the public eye, but nowadays, with 24-hour news and instant communication, their personal ones are scrutinised too. Every opinion, tweet or encounter is documented and reported, with the higher up you are, the more in-depth the coverage. The result of that is that people are closer than ever to sports stars, yet it has also meant more scandals and failings on their behalf. No longer are sports stars judged purely on their sporting prowess.

On the main, that’s been a good thing. Sports stars, as has been touched upon, are easier to listen to than teachers or parents, for children they are role models and thus any failings need to be exploited, so they aren’t put on a pedestal. In terms of extra-marital affairs, the press will only report on them if they involve a high-profile sports star. Although this is mainly down to profits and readership, it is also a reflection of how people in power need to be held to certain values. If you can’t trust your captain, it’s a fair argument to say the public need to know about that.

Although it could be argued that infidelity is trivial, harmful views such as homophobia, racism or misogyny certainly aren’t. If a sports star expresses such views in public it is the duty of the press to expose them, not simply a right. In such a case, the press should be used as a place to present the arguments as to why such views are harmful, wrong and out-dated.

Furthermore, the media is right to expose sports stars failings, like they are right to exploit anyone’s failures. Sports stars have the same failures that any normal person does, and if a person commits a crime they will be uncovered and shamed in the same way. On the occasions where a sports star has been arrested, the press has behaved in the way expected from them. Upon release, the majority of prisoners have found employment again, although there is an exception in the on going Ched Evans case. To repeat, the media is right to expose failings as long as they are consistent and fair while doing it.

To conclude, Tiger Woods, Ryan Giggs, John Terry are all examples of sports stars whose failings have been exposed by the media. For those three, it was mainly cases of adultery, and the media was right to expose them as they were in positions of power and trust. The media is just as right to uncover views that could harm people, any criminal activity or aggression on the pitch. Sporting prowess is only half of what a sports star brings to their sport. They also have a responsibility to be a moral, law-abiding citizen who does not seek to hurt people through words or actions, just like any other member of our society. As figures that people look up to, it is arguable that this responsibility is heightened. It is for these reasons that sports stars shouldn’t be judged purely on their sporting prowess. A free media gives the right for anyone’s failings to be fairly exploited.

Reference List:

BBC (2009) Tiger Woods ‘in good condition’ after car crash. London: BBC. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/golf/8383782.stm [accessed 28 December 2015]

USA Today (2009) Tiger Woods issues statement on crash. Virginia: USA Today. Available from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/golf/2009-11-29-4208750340_x.htm [accessed 28 December 2015]

Corrigan, J. (2009) Tiger injured in late-night car accident. The Independent, 28th November. Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/golf/tiger-injured-in-late-night-car-accident-1830059.html [accessed 28 December 2015]

Reuters (2009) UPDATE 4-Tiger Woods admits ‘transgressions,’ apologizes. Florida: Reuters. Available from http://www.reuters.com/article/golf-woods-idUSGEE5B11VL20091202 [accessed 28 December 2015]

Dahlberg, T (2009 (1)) Two weeks that shattered the legend of Tiger Woods. Fox News, 12th December. Available from http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2009Dec12/0,4670,GLFTigerapossTerribleTime,00.html [accessed 28 December 2015]

Dahlberg, T (2009 (2)) Woods apology doesn’t change the equation. Yahoo, 2nd December. Available from https://ca.sports.yahoo.com/top/news?slug=txtimdahlberg120209 [accessed 28 December 2015]

CTB v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2011] EWHC 1232 (QB).

Curtis, J. (2015) Ryan Giggs invites brother Rhodri to New Year’s party after four years of not speaking. Daily Mail, 27th December. Available from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3375213/Ryan-Giggs-invites-brother-Rhodri-New-Year-s-party-four-years-not-speaking-Man-United-legend-s-affair-sibling-s-wife.html [accessed 28 December 2015]

Akerman, N. (2014) Ryan Giggs’ Dad, Danny Wilson, Slams and Ridicules Manchester United Boss. Bleacher Report, 28th April. Available from http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2043910-ryan-giggs-dad-danny-wilson-slams-and-ridicules-manchester-united-boss [accessed 28 December 2015]

BBC (2010) John Terry gagging order lifted by High Court. London: BBC. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8488232.stm [accessed 28 December 2015]

Davies, N. (2010) Venessa Perroncel: ‘The stories are untrue. Who are they to do this?’ The Guardian, 10th April. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/apr/10/vanessa-perroncel-interview [accessed 28 December 2015]

Clegg, J. and Orwall, B. (2010) Last Taboo in English Football: Playing Footsie With Mate’s Mate. Wall Street Journal, 4th February. Available from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704259304575043212033975040 [accessed 29 December 2015]

Fifield, D. (2009) Chelsea stand by John Terry and insist he took no money. The Guardian, 20th December. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/football/2009/dec/20/chelsea-john-terry-carlo-ancelotti [accessed 29 December 2015]

BBC (2012 (1)) John Terry cleared of racism against Anton Ferdinand. London: BBC. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18827915 [accessed 29 December 2015]

Kelly, T. (2012) Rio Ferdinand: ‘Choc ice’ is not a racial slur, insists footballer after he used term to describe Ashley Cole. Daily Mail, 15th July. Available from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2173750/Rio-Ferdinand-Choc-ice-racist-slur-insists-footballer-used-term-Ashley-Cole.html [accessed 29 December 2015]

Kervin, A. (2015) Tyson Fury transcript: The controversial interview with Oliver Holt. Daily Mail, 3rd December. Available from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-3343005/Tyson-Fury-transcript-Listen-read-controversial-interview-world-heavyweight-boxing-champion-claims-misquoted-Oliver-Holt.html [accessed 29 December 2015]

Hayward, P. (2015) Tyson Fury’s hatred is a lot more dangerous than his boxing. Telegraph, 1st December. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/boxing/12027140/Tyson-Furys-hatred-is-a-lot-more-dangerous-than-his-boxing.html [accessed 29 December 2015]

Rayner, G. (2015) BBC urged to drop Tyson Fury from SPOTY shortlist over homophobic and misogynist comments. Telegraph, 4th December. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/sports-personality-of-the-year/12032967/BBC-urged-to-drop-Tyson-Fury-from-SPOTY-shortlist-over-homophobic-and-misogynist-comments.html [accessed 29 December 2015]

Jmsblogs (2015) My Fury if Tyson is banned [blog]. 13 December. Available from https://jmsblogs.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/my-fury-if-tyson-is-banned/ [accessed 29 December 2015]

Hartley-Brewer, J. (2015) Why Tyson Fury shouldn’t be thrown off the Sports Personality of the Year award shortlist. Telegraph, 8th December. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/boxing/12037200/Why-Tyson-Fury-shouldnt-be-thrown-off-the-Sports-Personality-of-the-Year-award-shortlist.html [accessed 29 December 2015]

BBC (2012 (2)) Footballer rape trial: Ched Evans jailed five years, Clayton McDonald cleared. London: BBC. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17781842 [accessed 29 December 2015]

BBC (2014) Ched Evans: Jessica Ennis-Hill makes Sheffield United warning. Manchester: BBC. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/30046618 [accessed 29 December 2015]

BBC (2015) Ched Evans: Oldham say talks still ongoing for possible deal. Manchester: BBC. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/30678251 [accessed 29 December 2015]

BBC (2013) Luke McCormick in talks to make Plymouth Argyle return. London: BBC. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22398328 [accessed 30 December 2015]

BBC (2007) Imprisoned Hughes set for Oldham. London: BBC. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/o/oldham_athletic/6703663.stm [accessed 30 December 2015]

ESPNCricinfo (2015) Amir ‘eligible’ for national selection. ESPNCricinfo. Available from http://www.espncricinfo.com/pakistan/content/story/954643.html [accessed 30 December 2015]

Pattullo, A. (2014) In Search of Duncan Ferguson. Edinburgh: Mainstream.

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Ramble #8

Scaremongering and Misinformation

I hate everything about this referendum. It’s drained all love of politics from me, instead reducing the subject to one which I get very stressed about. I have to, or severely want to, leave the room every time it’s brought up because of the rising levels of panic I feel. It’s therefore strange that I’m writing a blog on the subject, however Emma has convinced me it might help. 

I should start by saying I’ve already voted. Voting by post as soon as I could, I crossed the “Remain” box. Nothing was going to change my mind and I’ve been sure from the moment Cameron announced this referendum of how I was going to vote. 

So, what’s my problem?

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My problem is how the campaigns are being run. Just the other day, the Leave campaign horrifically violated the memories of 49 innocent people in Orlando by using that terror attack for their own personal gain. Wrong on many levels, the first being that there is no substantial evidence it was an attack motivated by religion. Therefore, all they were doing is playing on very basic fears to manipulate the public to an endgame which has very little to do with terrorism. Security is one of the few issues which both sides agree will be pretty much the same in or out. 

Scaremongering. It’s the word of the campaign.

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Too many people are voting with their heart rather than their head. Too many people are saying “I won’t vote Leave because Farage and the Sun backs them” or “I won’t vote Remain because David Cameron supports it”. I’ve genuinely seen both of those as reasons for voting, and both are unbelievably idiotic.

This is one of the most important votes of our generation. And, true to 21st century form, we decide to vote on it based on who likes who, rather than what is best for us as people of this country, and yes, as people of this continent. 

The whole of this endless drivel of a campaign has been based on making the other side look worse. And it’s worse on the Remain side, just watch the “debates”. 

In 2014, Scotland remained part of the UK because the “No” side convinced Scots of the dangers of leaving. Note the wording there. That does not say “reminded them of the greatness of the union”, instead it implies “convinced them to stay”. There was no love in that decision, it was simply a decision. In many ways, it’s the reason there is still the possibility of another referendum. 

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In 2015, clearly noticing that it had worked, the Conservatives continued in the same vein. In 2010, their election billboards read “I’ve never voted Tory before, but … ” yet come 2015, the headlines said “I’m not voting Labour because …”. Negativity had clouded the minds of the public, and negatively was how they responded.

Clearly believing they were onto something, and knighting the man behind it, the Conservatives tried it again at the 2016 London mayoral election. This time, it backfired spectacularly as Londoners wholeheartedly rejected the hate mandate of Zac Goldsmith and instead elected the positive, likeable and charming Sadiq Khan. 

Rather than that be a wakeup call, both sides decided that negativity was the way forward and we’ve had a hateful two months of lies, lies and bigger lies. 

Will the economy go into a recession if we leave the EU? Of course it won’t!

Will we be flooded with Turkish immigrants if we remain? Of course we won’t! 

In theory, this debate should have reignited my love for politics. In theory, it should have opened a generation’s eyes to the benefits and fallbacks of a major political power they happen to be a part of. In theory, we should have had positive comments met with minor negatives. 

The EU does as much as it doesn’t. I just don’t think people know that. 

This morning, I came across this graph:

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Misinformation. The second word of the campaign. 

I’m not here to tell you facts, I’m not here to convince you who to vote for. In reality, we won’t feel much either way. It boils down to how you feel, and how you want to vote. As I did during last year’s general, I urge you to read everything you can on the subject and don’t believe the forceful Remain leaflets or lying Leave TV spots and reach your own conclusion.

The two sides can be summed up as thus: the Remain side will tell you lies, the Leave side will mix vague truths with Daily Mail lies to persuade you to address a problem that isn’t there. Both are as bad as each other, both are hateful. 

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As a final point, despite the fact we had a referendum before, I don’t think we should be voting on this. It’s been proven that a) we don’t know enough and b) our politicians are not trustworthy enough to provide us with enough. It begs the question: why? Why have the elite dumped this decision on the masses, instead of hiring independent experts to answer for us. Some things we should get a say in, but an issue as flammable as this? Definitely not.

Cameron, Farage, Osborne, Johnson, Corbyn and Gove have thrown us into a river without a lifejacket. We have to make sure they pay for that. 


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Introducing … Josh Still

Josh Still is on the eve of the biggest day of his life: his marriage to Tanya Hockley. The 23-year-old lives with Tanya down in Stone Cross, near Eastbourne, works for Conservative MP Nus Ghani, has degrees from LSE and Yale; and has a huge passion for sport. It was a wide-reaching conversation …

  1. How, when and where did you met Tanya?

Tanya and I met in America – I was studying at Yale, and she was on a placement there. We met at a mutual friend’s British-themed party, which is definitely something quirky to tell people

  1. What was the first thing you guys spoke about?

I don’t remember our first words, but I remember we spoke at length that night about the dissertation Tanya was writing about whether a robot could have a soul. I remember saying ‘what if humans don’t even have souls?’ I don’t know if I’d still say that now…

  1. Given what you’ve just said – do you consider yourself a Christian?

Yes, I’ve now been confirmed as such. That’s not to say I don’t have questions and doubts – I think that’s very normal, and signing up to dogma will never be my thing. I’ll also always be very sceptical of authority & systems that enable certain human beings to exercise too much power over others. There’s been too much of that in the church, and even the most cursory reading of what Jesus actually taught will tell you that’s not what he wanted. I think my faith is more personal to me – I don’t pay too much attention to what bishops & archbishops etc. are saying. Because while I say yes, I don’t think it’s the only way. I think all religions essentially do the same thing & ask the same questions, but that every culture & human society does/did religion in its own way. Maybe they all glimpse part of the broader truth?

  1. What advice would you give to people who are sceptical about the idea of religion?

I don’t want to tell people what to believe. I don’t think you need faith to be a kind and caring person, which is ultimately what matters. What I would encourage though is for people to always challenge the simplistic narrative that they’re fed. Our society & our media deride religious views as antiquated and irrelevant, which when you look into it more closely, isn’t really fair. As society modernises and becomes ever more capitalist and technologically driven, we’re becoming ever more anxious & depressed personally, and our jobs at work are becoming more insecure. We’re told that appearance; money and status are what matter. A tiny elite control so much of the wealth. Distrusting other people & being cynical are considered virtues. I think both as a society, and especially as individuals within it, we could use a bit more religion. It proves that there is a better way to live life, and gives us a message of hope and redemption.

  1. Has Tanya, or your experiences down on the south coast, directly impacted your thoughts on any other issues?

Yeah I think so. I’ve developed and matured as a person, no doubt. And intellectually, I’ve changed a lot as I’ve learned more about the world, but I think my core principles are the same. It’s just while I once thought that socialism was a good way of achieving them, and religion wasn’t, actually I think I got it the wrong way round. I now hate the idea of a government filled with people following their own agendas & interests telling me how to live my life & particularly if it’s ever run by the modern-day intellectually stunted left-wing activists that have decided that they know the right things to think, and so freedom of speech is now outdated. That will never be true. Different opinions are good, unpopular opinions will always be how you improve society & unpleasant opinions are the price that you pay for that. In the media, I always make sure I read the most controversial columnists from all viewpoints, because they’re the ones that have something interesting to say. I know I’m a bizarre mix really – I’m a contrarian religious advocate of the freedom of the individual who wants to leave the EU but let more refugees in. Which is crazily different, but I actually like that, and I look forward to seeing how my mind changes as the facts change in the future!

  1. What about the idea of marriage?

It’s good for us, and I like the idea of God blessing our union. Whether it’s best for everyone else is for them to decide, but I do find the modern trend of increasing divorce very sad.

  1. How do you think you will feel when you see Tanya walking down the aisle?

I’m sure I’ll cry. I cried on the train reading the end of a tale of two cities the other day, so I’m sure I will at the happiest moment of my life

  1. What are your plans immediately after the wedding?

Night at the ritz, 2 weeks honeymoon exploring America & being off work – sounds good to me!

  1. And then, general future plans – do you want the typical happily married with 2 kids and a dog or do you see you guys following a different path?

I’m not sure about the dog … But yeah, I’d want kids in a few years. I think it’s one of the most innate and powerful human desires that we have

  1. Do you have any ideas for names?

Yes, but I’m not giving them away yet!

  1. You’ve been to university on both sides of the pond, how did the experiences differ?

I think both could have been better. The academic systems were very different, and I found Yale’s harder – but maybe that’s because it was Yale! But I didn’t like the undergraduate drinking culture, nor the idea of what university is now – for middle-class people to get good jobs. It should be about education. And Yale was just too powerful – it owns like half of new haven, and their fees are ridiculous. But it pretends that if it can stop its students saying mean things about Native Americans, it’s all lovely and progressive. Absolute bull.

  1. For people who have never travelled there, just how different is America?

Well, we speak the same language & we have a shared history. So it’s closer to us than most European countries are. In a lot of ways, it’s the same but with different twists. But the cities look very different – the roads run in straight lines, there’s lots more cars and, of course, lots more ghettoes and racial segregation in a way we don’t understand here

  1. What is it like working for an MP? What are the most difficult aspects, and what are the more enjoyable ones?

I think the difficult and the enjoyable aspects are both to do with meeting people. MPs attract the local fools, who it’s never fun to deal with. But you also meet some incredible people too, which can be really quite humbling. And incredible when we can actually do something to help them.

  1. Do you still get a sense of wonder every time you walk into parliament, or is it now just your office?

It’s now just an office. And I hate that! I still do like taking people on tours though – if you’re ever interested (ed – I told him I was)!

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  1. Do you ever miss Nottingham?

Of course. I grew up there & love coming back. Most of my friends & family are up there too, as you know. I think Nottingham will always be a part of who I am. And Nottingham forest – a big club that wants to be successful, but doesn’t always succeed, and is small enough to be an outsider rather than part of the elite. I identify with that.

  1. Talking about Forest, just what can they achieve?

Quite a lot actually. I want you to shoot me if I ever become one of these fans that’s happy to accept middling along in 16th place for the next 5 years. Look at how sporting a city Nottingham is – we could sustain a PL club without question. And our squad, if they all stay fit, is definitely good enough to compete for the top 6. I want us to aim high. But we need to finally appoint a good manager rather than the dross we’ve had to put up with for most of the next 15 years, and then Fawaz has to back him with money and time, and hire people who know how to run the club and leave it to them. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Look at Wes Morgan, captain of a Premier-League winning side. He was in League One with us for 3 years so it shows you just what can be achieved. And we’ve produced players like Lascelles, who’s now a PL regular, and discovered Antonio, who is too. It can definitely be done!

  1. How do you feel about sport in general? Has it reached a point where it’s too based around money and winning or is it still an enjoyable spectacle?

Well, now I’ve stopped going to Forest so much, I find myself rapidly losing interest in football generally – which I think has sold its soul. But I think sport will always be a big love in my life, and I’m trying to get more into sports like tennis, rugby, county cricket, ice hockey etc. which have been far less corrupted by money so far. And I’m really enjoying it. Not to mention tennis, the best sport in the world, which is superb both for gender equality, and for the fact that only about the top 50 men and women in the world earn big money. Which I’m fine with, as they have insane ability. But the rest have to earn a living, so they’re more relatable for the fans.

  1. Finally, a bold question which I like asking people , how can we make the world a better place to live?

I don’t think there’s a set template. I think that everybody needs to do it in their own way. Take a look at yourself and discern what your calling is in life, and listen to the best parts of your nature, and you’ll know what to do. There’s a million and one different ways to help people and to change the world, and we need people to do all of them!

Josh and Tanya will get married tomorrow (14th May 2016) at St Luke’s Church in Stone Cross.


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My fluctuating opinions on this election

As everyone should be aware, this countries general election is looming large. On the 7th May, the people in our country will take to the polls to cast a vote for who they want to run the country for 5 years. The choice of prime minister is between Cameron on the right and Miliband on the left however neither will have complete control over parliament, which means it’s the voters of the smaller parties (the Lib Dems, the Greens, UKIP and the SNP) who will seemingly have the biggest say. My mind is scrambled about this whole event. Now, I won’t try and persuade you to vote for a certain party in this piece – I honestly don’t believe anyone should. The only way you can make an educated vote is by making an informed decision on what you believe in.

I think people in this country are, on the whole, wonderful, however we all fall into two quite simple traps with politics. The first is to blindly vote how their household or area votes. Simply put, a child will usually vote what their parent votes, folk in Manchester or other cities will vote Labour whilst those in the countryside vote Conservative. If you are guilty of this and have no other reason to vote for a party then you need to seriously think about whether to vote at all. A vote is a democratic right and you are wasting it by not considering what you actually, genuinely believe in. The second trap is voting for someone, or a party, who simply looks good on TV. Nigel Farage has picked up so many votes by just standing in a pub and it seems like Ed Miliband loses thousands by just appearing on our screens. This is the most dangerous way of voting as you could be endorsing a vision you don’t agree with or casting aside one you stand by wholeheartedly.

I mention those because it’s been pointed out to me (thanks Emma) that I’ve blindly voted Labour in every election since I was able to vote. This got me thinking about what I actually want to improve and, believe me, my mind has been changed a thousand times already! I don’t really know where to start with this so it’s probably best to go chronologically.

I started off thinking I was going to vote Labour but wouldn’t be entirely fussed by a David Cameron-led government for 5 years if it meant Labour got a new leader and the UKIP threat died. Then I decided not to vote at all, as the constant mud slinging by politicians drove me to despair. While I can’t remember it word for word, I watched Osborne on the Andrew Marr show bang on and on about how bad Ed Balls’ was, refusing to answer the question put to him before ending by essentially saying it didn’t matter how bad the Conservative’s plan was because Labour would drive the countries economy to the dogs. I don’t care how true that is, I wanted to hear about your plan for the economy, not you attacking your opponent. In fact, the whole Conservative election strategy to constantly attack Miliband is a joke. It’s a strategy a 5-year-old kid could come up with and quite frankly something I expect from the opposition, not the sitting government. Labour talk more about the issues but take every opportunity to slag Cameron off. It’s politics like that which drives young people like me further and further away from it.

A long internal battle ended in me deciding to vote, with my heart now set on the Green party. Being naturally left wing, and also a huge freak who wants to remain in the EU, reduce Carbon Emissions to 0 and disband all nuclear weapons it’s the logical choice. Furthermore, I’m becoming more and more disillusioned with Labour so a protest vote in this election (particularly as my seat is a very safe Labour seat – which is good as I like my sitting MP) was the right time to use a protest vote. I was also at this point taking more and more policies quizzes and my results were invariably equal between Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems.

However, it’s hard to vote Green when they have such a poor leader in Natalie Bennett and so many absurd policies. They would rather cut all car use to 0 rather than fund ways to look into improving the emissions from motor vehicles. I love cars, and I’m very dependent on buses. We can’t live in the 21st century without either and to even entertain the idea that we can is dangerous. While I stand with the majority of the Green’s environment policies, they actually aren’t offering anything that the major parties refuse to. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have promised to cease carbon emissions by a certain year (Labour 2030, Lib Dem 2050) while the Conservatives will end all emissions from vehicles by 2050. I’d sway towards the left on environment because the Conservatives policies on this are very thin and seem to me to be poorly thought out, like a last resort.

So we come back to my disillusionment with this election, brought upon by the pointless debates. Instead of addressing the issues that actually need addressing, our political leaders chose instead to pander to two leaders, one who only has the support of 14% of this country (BBC poll of polls – 23rd April 2015) and one who can only gain votes in Scotland. (It was actually Miliband’s refusal to do this when I started feeling a little more warmth towards him.) I know that their voters hold the balance of power and the big 2 need to wrestle votes away from UKIP and the SNP but for Christ’s sake, there are more important issues than Immigration, Europe and Scotland. Environment, Education and Health is what this election should be fought about (as well as how they all link in with the economy), but they aren’t sexy enough and Farage, who controls power in Westminster despite not even having a seat there, has no sensible policies on any so we avoid them.

Starting with the environment, the oil is running out and carbon in the air is rising. If we don’t tackle the problems facing the world with climate change now then it will be too late. It’s as simple as that. UKIP would abolish climate change teaching in schools – they believe it to be a myth. I would take a bet that most potential voters in this election didn’t realise that. Has that changed your opinion on UKIP? It should! I’m not saying vote Green either, as I’ve said before Labour and Lib Dems have some very sensible environmental policies. For example, Labour want to prioritise flood prevention and the Lib Dems will double renewable energy by 2020. We have an opportunity this election to start changing the world into a more renewable, sustainable one. By 2020 Costa Rica will be the first country to be completely carbon neutral, there is no reason why we can’t be in a similar position by then if we tackle these issues now yet no one is talking about it! This is a once in a lifetime chance to change our world for good and we are wasting it by jabbering on about immigrants and the highly beneficial European Union, simply because one bigoted man and his racist waste of space party are dictating terms. For the record, immigrants bring wonderful cultures along with a better atmosphere to this country and the EU does us more good than harm. That’s all I’ll say on them.

For me, the most important issue facing our country is the failing education standards. Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers to this however I’m fairly sure I know what not to do. We lag behind the world in our English, Maths and Languages standards and having just come out of education, I know how easy it is to become resentful towards it. I was weird because I liked learning; it’s a sad world if that’s the case. It shows a lack of understanding from adults towards children’s needs and a horrible complacency from those in charge. How can my generation tackle the mounting problems if the standards in education are continually slipping?

It’s this issue that has prompted me to write this blog for today I found out that Labour want to make English and Maths compulsory until 18. This is such a dreadful idea that I don’t even know where to begin in criticising it. First of all, not every 11-18 year old wants to learn English and Maths. Everyone agrees that they should know the basics however once you reach 16 the one advantage of our education system is that you can then decide what you want to learn about. This policy would see more truancy from these lessons and attention taken away from the children who actually want to learn English and Maths, trying to help those who don’t. It won’t inspire more people to become mathematicians or writers, it will just turn more people off. The Conservative government started the boosting of the “core” subjects and it appears a Labour one would continue that. I believe this to be very dangerous as it takes away the core traits that have traditionally made our nation successful, creativity and individuality. Why breed an establishment of robots when you can inspire a generation of artists loved the world over? Why as a country do we continue to crush natural talent and smother inspiration? The lack of understanding shown by those in power is dumbfounding.

For me, the best of a bad bunch of policies seems to be from the Lib Dems although saying “investing every penny we can” is a cheap cop out designed for good headlines rather than useful politics. One to watch in the Education standards are the Green party because they’re promising a balanced curriculum with more focus on creativity than there is now.

Education actually brings me nicely onto Health for I don’t believe children are taught how to look after their bodies properly. The NHS is wonderful and we should all be rightly proud of it even if it lets you down from time to time. Emma was telling me today that the biggest problem facing it is the amount of cases of type-2 diabetes and I was gobsmacked by that. It’s such a preventable disease and if we actually found a way to teach children about proper intake of sugar levels and healthy eating in a way that wasn’t patronising nor confusing then we could save the NHS billions of pounds. The Lib Dems are the only party, to the best of my knowledge, promising to implement more healthy eating lessons in schools. Junk food, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs can all be consumed, but the key point is in moderation. In fact, Lib Dems seem very strong on Health issues as they were also the first party to prioritise mental health care, and guarantee equal rights treatment. Mental health is a grossly misunderstood yet highly present condition in this country and not other people are prepared to tackle it. Everyone is talking about it now, but Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems were the first to bring it up. The Conservatives don’t even mention mental health, except dementia in their policies, an inexcusable oversight. They also have another wishy-washy headline grabbing “increase spending on the NHS” and fail to provide specifics.

So there we have it, my take on the most important issues in this election and yet the ones not being mentioned much. Of course, everyone will differ which is why I’ve tried not to present you with an argument for one party, rather a summary of the key issues from every party. Apologies if my anti-UKIP views came across, they are fairly strong after all but if you want to vote for them then you are welcome to, our country allows you to. One thing I will say is that I’m very worried for the future of our schools. Every party’s education policies fall well short of where they should be and no politician seem to have any idea about how to improve it. The scariest part is, neither do I. This needs serious thought because no country can improve while education standards slip. Education is the silver bullet of politics, the one area where simple improvements would make the world of difference yet this crop of politicians doesn’t seem to care.

The point of this article was never to convince you to vote for this party or for that, it was more an attempt to suggest that you should look beyond the headlines and actually look at the facts. If you are going to vote in a few weeks time then take time to do policy quizzes to find out which end of the political system you stand on and which party you should vote for. I recommend the one over at https://voteforpolicies.org.uk as that lists all the parties policies without telling you whose they are, taking away the traps I mentioned before. I actually don’t care whom anyone votes for, as I understand the right to a democratic vote however if you vote without doing proper research then you are wasting the one human right we all deserve. I’ve decided I’ll vote, I haven’t decided who for – Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens are my only real options but a vote gives me the right to complain about my government if I don’t feel they are representing me properly. I regret having to write such a negative article however that is just how I feel regarding politics these days. There is very little to get excited about when all are so out of touch with reality. All we can do is vote for who we see is the best of a bad bunch and hope that we can use social media to inspire change.