With the news of Richard Keys' resignation, another ignominious section of the Sky Sports' crisis management manual is finished, a manual that every company with a significant public face should devour before adopting their media policies. Sky has reacted with fecklessness in the face of a call to action, something that has made the company the third, complicit man in the booth for Sunday's exchange regarding Sian Massey. When people serving as the public face of a company act reprehensibly, your continued association with them is cause to think the company reprehensible.
For two days after Andy Gray shared his wisdom, Sky allowed that link to persist, terminating him only after more footage emerged, footage that strengthened the link between the company and Gray's prejudice. Two sexist faces of our company not enough for you? Here, here's a third, one more concerned about whether Sian Massey's a looker than anything actually relevant to the coverage. Still, the Andy Burton tape gave Sky an out - the ability to argue Gray's surreptitiously recorded off-air comments were more than an isolated occurrence. Unfortunately, the perceived need for more evidence leaves the lasting implication that some sexism at Sky can be mildly tolerated. Again, another chapter of the crisis manual to study, for all the wrong reasons.
Less important but equally telling of Sky's approach: How Gray was handled affirms the impression public pressure, not the comments themselves, was the necessary condition in Gray's departure. One time? You don't get to do the Bolton match. Two times? Now we have sufficient cause, though you're no more of a lout today than you were on Sunday. Then, the lout was an acceptable image for our company. Now, people seem to be really upset.
Clearly Sky is not upset, else Richard Keys would have been fired Sunday. Or, he would have been dismissed Tuesday, with Gray. Or he would have been dismissed today, after an interview with TalkSport where he alluded to an eventual resignation, making befuddling allusions to conspiracies and "dark forces" undermining his position with the broadcaster.
Instead, Keys has been allowed to resign, a departure many will exalt as a virtuous conclusion to a loathsome struggle. Gray and Keys are gone, and with the perpetrators out, we can go about our footballing lives, the thought process would hold. The ends have been reached, and although they weren't brought about with any of the required decisiveness, perhaps the ends do justify the means.
Unfortunately, Sky's means of waiting for the process to define itself has cast the network as one of the perpetrators. No right-minded broadcaster would have done so little had their on-air talent been as brazenly insensitive. If for no other reason than to maintain credibility amongst viewers, the broadcaster should have suspended the duo when the comments became known, before a 12-hour incubation period led to a Monday morning uproar, an uproar which defined the story. The duo should have been terminated before kick-off at the Reebok or at least been prescribed sensitivity training with fines donated to the Sian Massey Institute of 'How About We Active Fix This, Instead Of Just Assuming It Will Go Away.'
But now with Keys gone to find Gray's pasture, Sky's lost their chance to distinguish themselves from the announcers they've lost, and in failing to do so, they've implied certain circumstances could make sexist rhetoric acceptable. Perhaps the comments were well-intended or good-natured (as if there is well-intended or good-natured sexism). Perhaps all's fair when you're not speaking into a mic a producer's identified as hot, nevermind if you're on company time. With Gray fired too late and Keys not fired at all, Sky tells us their attitude toward sexism exists in that realm. Their words might be bad. They be tolerable. Can we really afford to lose Andy and Richard?
Of course they could. The mere act of taking a decisive stand on sexism would have engendered huge amounts of support. The first broadcast without the duo would have built corresponding curiosity, while the quest for permanent replacements would have brought even more attention to their telecasts. And the bares reminding, these are telecasts that cover the English freakin' Premier League. I can't even imagine how poor the potential replacements would have to be to jeopardize that viewership.
Sky felt their announcers were worth protecting. At a minimum, they tried to let the controversy blow over. With Gray, the Burton tape made that impossible. Keys's resignation prevented Sky from retaining the duo's other half, and because Sky failed to take a clear stand with either, our perception of the broadcaster sees them standing in the middle of a non-existent netherworld between acceptable and actionable sexism.
As we will see in the coming days, Sky Sports' broadcasts will be around long after Keys and Gray depart. As such, the lasting legacy of this week may not be the fall of two icons; rather, it may be the broadcaster's complicity. If Sky fails to change a culture that allowed Keys and Gray to run unchecked - to promote a situation where anonymous sourcing was needed to complete the picture of the broadcast's atmosphere - then it's only a matter of time until this happens again. Sky will hire more high profile, proven talent that's deeply entrenched in the same footballing culture that produced Keys and Gray. And years from now I'll be able to copy and paste this piece into Google Docs, find and replace the proper nouns with the new perpetrators, and submit.
However, if Sky learns from this experience, views this as an indictment of their broadcast more than the unfortunate fall of their prized talent, we'll have our learning moment, giving us something positive from a confusing and disappointing week. But judging by Sky's actions, I doubt that moment's coming. There's a reason why Richard Keys was allowed to resign when he should have been fired three days ago. This isn't going to be the last problem we have with Sky.