On Gary Lineker

Before we begin: the T&Cs. Because I know that this post is going to annoy some people, and if it does, I really do want to it to be for all the right reasons. So…

This post is NOT about:
The rights or wrongs of the UK Government’s new policy on immigration.
The rights or wrongs of the opinions of Gary Lineker on said policy.

There is enough stuff out there about those things, and I’m not even providing a link to anything about this story, because this is a political thing and so the views out there on this are completely polarised and will either strike you as “spot on” or “bullshit hate speech” depending on your political stance. It’s not difficult to google “Gary Lineker”, click the “News” tab, choose your site, read the article and then either applaud or rage. Have fun.

My point is rather more about Gary Lineker’s contract with the BBC. Contracts are important things. Gary Lineker wouldn’t get paid for his Match of the Day work if he didn’t have a contract. But it’s a two way street, because equally, he wouldn’t have to turn up for his Match of the Day work if he didn’t have a contract. But he does turn up and he does get paid, so everyone’s happy*.

The thing is, because he’s working for the BBC, Gary Lineker earns more than £1,350,000 of taxpayers’ money each year. Is that reasonable? IT DOESN’T MATTER – that’s not what we’re discussing here.
But when he signed the contract to allow him to be paid that amount of money, he also agreed to abide by the BBC’s guidelines on social media use. Is that fair? IT DOESN’T MATTER – that’s not what we’re discussing here.

The fact is that the two-way contract street says that yes, he gets paid, but no, he can’t share his political opinions on social media. And by signing that contract, he tacitly said that he was ok with not expressing his political opinions on social media, as long as the BBC paid him £1,350,000 to present MOTD.

And because it’s a two way street, and no-one has got you at gunpoint signing anything, you always have a choice:
Don’t like the terms of the contract?
Don’t sign it.
Don’t present MOTD.
Express your political opinions freely on social media.

But also, don’t get paid £1,350,000 a year.

You can’t have your cake and eat it.

And so, whether you agree with the Government policy or not, and whether you agree with Gary Lineker’s opinions or not, is completely immaterial here. He clearly broke one of the terms of his contract, and, just like you or I or anyone else who is lucky enough to have a job might expect if we broke one of the terms of our contract, his employers have taken issue with that. But are they right t… IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.
Stop bringing your emotions and politics into a simple black and white issue.

The upshot of this is several-fold:

  • There will be no MOTD presenters or commentators this evening, and the BBC viewers will instead have the international PLP feed – including Jim Beglin. Eish.
  • The BBC will be pronounced by both political sides as biased. (An aside: the fact that one can look at such polarised political opposites both complaining that the national broadcaster is prejudiced against their particular viewpoint actually indicates to me that the BBC is doing quite a good job of being impartial.)
  • Gary Lineker will either back down (nope) or he will have to leave the BBC and be seen (by some people at least) as some sort of martyr for free speech. But…
  • The more likely outcome will be that the BBC (and/or any other employer watching this and not wanting all this shit coming their way) will surely make their contracts clearer and more restrictive when it comes to this issue, thus “stifling” “free speech” even further.

Personally (and again, this is without prejudice towards this case – this goes for each and every one of them), I would love it if the opinions of celebrities and TV personalities weren’t given more credence and gravity simply because of their public status. It’s ridiculous that because Matt le Tissier had a somewhat successful career as a footballer in the 80s and 90s, we should somehow pay particular attention to his views on vaccines. It’s pathetic that because Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar for her acting ability, we should consider her as some sort of expert on nutrition.
Happen to be a minor celebrity because you were the keyboard player for a 90s band and you have several qualifications in particle and quantum physics? Then that’s fine: you tell us all about the universe. But tell us about it because of your academic qualifications, and not because you came up with the riff on the band’s big hit.

The Gary Lineker issue is clearly very emotive and multi-factorial. But while there are many difficult conversations to be had around each of those matters, it seems to me that him clearly choosing not to obey one of the terms of his contract with the BBC is probably the most simple thing to grasp of them all.
Equally, how that breach of contract is dealt with shouldn’t be complex at all, but given the inevitable outrage from the all-knowing public, it almost certainly will be.

* I know, I know.