Former England international footballer Karen Carney has closed her Twitter account after sexist abuse from a minority of Leeds United fans. Why? Because she expressed her opinion as a pundit about the Covid break last season benefiting Leeds’ fitness levels.
As a lifelong Leeds fan, I am pleased that the club has publicly condemned this sexist abuse, saying that “Everyone at our club respects Karen greatly for all she has achieved in the game, as well as her work in the media and the charity work she undertakes.”
However, the club could have done this in the first instance, instead of first publishing a tweet mocking her, which foreseeably amplified the abuse. The club’s tweet was not itself sexist, and the club has also mocked male pundits. But it was still a mistake.
Men and women discussing football should be treated the same. But the reality is that they are not. Former Leeds and Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was also there and he agreed with Karen, saying ‘Yes, spot on.’ Yet he was not subject to the same abuse.
Karen Carney is on public record about her battles with depression, and she raises money for mental health charities. Leeds United also engages in community and charity activities, and the official Leeds Twitter account consistently highlights that great work.
It is fine for a football club to playfully use an official Twitter account to engage in football banter. But when doing so, a club with 600,000 followers has greater responsibilities than a random Twitter user.
In this instance, the club could have chosen to also challenge the minority of Leeds fans who were engaging in sexist abuse. Or it could have jointly mocked both Karen Carney and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who agreed with her.
It is, of course, easy to make these judgments after the event, and it is important to not equate the club’s tweet with the sexist abuse that is sadly so common on Twitter.
Sadly, Karen Carney has now closed her Twitter account. I hope that she returns, and that she receives the support that she deserves while doing her job.