Sunderland can learn from Adam Johnson case and lead way forward for football

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

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To know what is good, we must experience bad, otherwise we’d walk through life in a state of bland mediocrity.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life, there is no joy without pain, but the reverse can also be true.

From bad, there can also come good and now that the dust is beginning to settle on the desperately dark cloud that has hung over Sunderland AFC for the past year, there is the chance to repair some of the damage the Adam Johnson affair has inevitably done.

Football, as a whole, has an unerring record of dealing with serious subject matters so cack-handedly it beggars belief that we never seem to learn from the mistakes of our past.

Precedents never seem to be set, boundaries are never made so as to protect the game and its reputation from the ills that befall it. We lumber from one mess to another, dragging our heels in hope that the problems will just disappear if we allow it to go on long enough, burrowing our heads in the sand in denial.

The case of Ched Evans should have been a landmark, an example of what not to do and what Sunderland now has is an opportunity, along with the help of the PFA and the FA, to put together firm guidelines on a procedure that should be followed if and when incidents of this nature occur.

Protecting the victims of crimes such as rape, grooming and sexual abuse must be paramount over any football matters and it is morally reprehensible to take any stance other than this.

Regardless of circumstance, the victim was a fan of the club and after all, who are the most important people in football? The fans, of course, the fans.

Johnson may have lied to the club about his pleas in court but there was enough evidence presented to the club to bring his role at SAFC into question.

Vera Baird, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, made a great point on 5Live the other night when asked if “innocent until proven guilty” should be applied when footballers like Johnson and Evans are accused, thus allowing them to play on for their clubs.

She said: “This isn’t anything connected with that. You can’t say a murderer with blood on their hands and freshly arrested should be allowed to be free until he is convicted,”

Yet that is exactly what has happened in this case.

The club should have taken control of the situation, placed Johnson on indefinite leave from the club and told him to focus on defending himself against the accusations. Temporarily disconnecting him from the club relieves some of the negative focus brought by him and somewhat takes the limelight away from both the club and the victim until it is dealt with.

Once the trial has finished, then the player can either pick up his career again or face the consequences of his guilt. It really is as simple as that.

This isn’t just salacious gossip of John Terry/Wayne Bridge proportions. This is as serious as it gets and now it’s time for the club to lead the way for the whole of football and forge strong, long lasting connections with charities who support victims of crimes of a sexual nature.

These crimes aren’t particularly football’s problem alone, but instead of becoming one in a line of clubs who have fudged their approach in how they deal with these matters, Sunderland can become the club who protect those in need.

I know the club does a great deal of charitable work, there’s no denying that, but there is a path to be trodden which will lead to some kind of redemption for the errors made here.

It might just make the stain Adam Johnson has left on this great club a little fainter.