You might have heard of Eric Bristow. He was a professional darts player. He went on I’m A Celebrity a few years ago and did okay. I think he made the final four, or something. I can’t be bothered to check.
As is the way with reality television, it helped ensure Eric’s short-term semi-relevance. It aided him in further solidifying his punditry gig at Sky Sports, as well as providing him with a few television panel appearances outside of the sport, too. Now, he was Eric Bristow off of the telly, rather than Eric Bristow off of the darts; still – in the grand scheme – unimportant, but slightly less so than we was before.
Anyhow. Last week, Eric Bristow did a thing.
In a series of broken, ineloquent tweets, he weighed in on the football sexual abuse scandal currently dominating British news. Writing on social media, he said: “Might be a looney but if some football couch was touching me when I was a kid as I got older I would have went back and sorted that poof out.”
“Dart players tough guys footballers wimps,” he continued, like a nomadic cockney Tarzan.
“U got to sought him out when u get older or don’t look in the mirror glad I am a dart player proper man.”
Ah. Eric. Where to start.
If ever there was any degree of mystery surrounding the answer to whether or not Bristow was god-awful, then we can consider the case well and truly closed. “Proper man”, he says. Interesting. What we can infer from this, is that he believes himself to be such a thing – a proper man. In his view, he’s big, brave, and fucking hard; thus, making him a prime example of the male population’s pinnacle. I’m going to explain why he isn’t. I’m going to go as far to argue that he’s the worst possible version of what a ‘man’ can be.
Opinions like Eric Bristow’s dictate why so many victims of sexual abuse suffer in silence. These footballers have waivered their right to anonymity in order to tell their stories, hoping that it will lead victims of similar crimes to come out and testify. What Bristow’s saying, though, is that they’re cowards. Why? Because they didn’t go and break their abuser’s jaw as soon as they hit puberty. He calls them “wimps”. Allow me to inform you, Eric, that no victim of abuse is ever a ‘wimp’. These men are people that have been living with the fact they were abused as children by someone they trusted their entire lives. Do you reckon that’s easy? No, I doubt that you do. But to admit that wouldn’t be “manly”, would it. To be a man is to be publicly numb when it comes to emotion, especially ones such as fear, sadness and empathy. You have to pick your chin up and get on with it, am I right? Fuck off Eric Bristow.
Here’s the thing though. The only sense in which Bristow qualifies as a ‘real man’ is the sense in which a ‘real man’ equates to being the nasty, ignorant love child of a potato and a pork scratching. The only thing that’s real about him is the looming threat of stupidity. He sucks. Even his apology sucked. Appearing on Good Morning Britain, he managed to slip in a wry bit of sexism before a half-hearted “sorry if I offended anyone”-type cop-out. Piers Morgan pulled him up on it. He had me agreeing with Piers fucking Morgan. That alone warrants chastisement.
Toxic masculinity never went away, or anything like that, but seeing it pumped out so venomously on social media to millions by a well-known – and, so I’m led to believe, well-respected – personality stings that bit more. It highlights a problem within the male community, particularly in the sporting world.
A man has to be blokey; he has to be rugged, tough, keen for the banter and immune to offense. The veil is slipping, but there are still sectors in which the identity is fixed and immovable. But, believe it or not: a man can cry. A man can do all kinds of things. Those who use the term “political correctness gone mad” display a certain irony in exposing them as the real nutters. If people are going to public in their criticism of ‘unmasculinity’, then we need to be just as vocal in our criticism of them.
Words by Niall Flynn