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  • Writer's pictureMatt Himsworth

Transphobia, privacy and … its none of our business

This weekend a red-top newspaper ran the headline: “England footballer in £30,000 blackmail plot after bedding £150 transexual prostitute multiple times”.

The same newspaper ran a recent article which stated that a Premier League footballer was petrified of coming out because of the likely fan reaction online. The newspaper also chose to leave replies open when they Tweeted this weekend’s article.

Aside from the depressing transphobia in a tabloid declaring it relevant, and apparently more newsworthy, that a footballer had apparently had sex with someone who is transexual, the one thing that is clear (and the Sun will have known this, legally, and thus they didn’t name the player) … it is none of our business.

If I ever read an article like this, it is with a professional interest, having worked with many players, and other public figures, when the tabloids (and people they’ve had relationships with) decide there is a commercial value in their private life. Aside from the transphobic insertion of detail about the person’s gender, everything in this article is very familiar indeed. Even down to the name of the journalist whose name is on the byline. The name Moriarty struck fear into the characters of the Sherlock Holmes books. He is also a journalist who writes up the grubbiest of kiss’n’tells.

The simple facts are: a public figure has done something in private and someone, on this occasion the escort, has decided they want to profit from this. If the facts in this article are true then she has clearly committed a serious criminal offence of blackmail. It seems that, after the blackmail attempt has failed, she tried to then sell the story. Blackmail victims are entitled to anonymity and the player’s legal advisers would have advised him to report it to the police. That decision would have made it easier at the time for the player’s lawyers to convince the newspaper that they are legally barred from printing a story, or at least naming the player. So far so good, however, the newspaper in question is nothing if not determined. Having had their first story spiked, likely months ago, they will have waited, knowing how long a police investigation usually takes (and often having sources at a police station), and once time had passed with no news of any charge against the blackmailer, they would have contacted the player’s representatives again and asked: is a criminal case progressing?

Its perhaps not unusual for a player to decide he doesn’t want to proceed with a criminal case. Criminal cases are heard in public and, though victims of blackmail are by and large entitled to anonymity, a criminal trial based on the facts now contained in the tabloid article would be huge news, reported by every newspaper, and with social media all abuzz with speculation (even more so than it has been this weekend). There is plenty that can be done to enforce a victim’s anonymity (and that is what Slateford, the law firm I consult for, specialises in) but it is understandable that a player does not want to go through a trial and enforce justice.

And so, the result …

Someone who has committed the serious criminal offence of blackmail (the penalty for blackmail can be a sentence of up to 14 years in prison) will not be prosecuted, the player loses his automatic right to anonymity and his lawyers are back to arguing with the tabloid about privacy. It looks likely that they agreed an uneasy compromise with the newspaper which resulted in him not being identified — except for the fact that he is an England international. That narrow group creates issues in itself. There will be plenty of young men this weekend who have nothing to do with this matter who are being named and defamed online (most of the named individuals are married or in relationships). I’ve seen some absurd and clearly wrong suggestions online (and that is just in reply to the Sun’s own Tweet).

I am aware, from personal experience, of plenty of historic newspaper articles about unnamed “England internationals” where the player in question has made one or two appearances for the Three Lions 7 or 8 years previously. The player in question is almost certainly not who you think it is and, in any event, it’s none of your business. If you’re determined to declare online that the star player for your rivals is the implicated party, then you should be very careful. I am sure we will one day see a libel claim brought by an unconnected player as a result of mass online speculation.

As I’ve said many times before, the general public seem to think that footballers are not real people, just characters to be objectified, mocked and ridiculed online as much as they are celebrated and venerated there too. Despite their incredible talent, fame and wealth, they are real people, with real concerns and real mental health trauma. Living in a world where your sex life is considered fair game for tabloid reporting and online speculation it is a little wonder that a Premier League footballer is petrified about coming out.


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