Over the past few weeks, our newsfeeds have been busy with rumblings of Mason Greenwood’s potential return to Manchester United Football Club. Along with news of celebrities standing by Lizzo amid allegations of sexual and professional misconduct and Kevin Spacy being cleared of all charges, it can be confusing to know how to react when celebrities and iconic figureheads of our society stand accused, especially when there is so often a lack of accountability.
To recap, back in October 2022 Manchester United star Greenwood was charged by Greater Manchester Police with attempted rape, controlling and coercive behaviour and assault following the leak of incriminating video footage online.
We now know, in a shameful and evasive statement, that the club has decided to terminate his contract due to internal and public backlash, but explicitly maintained his innocence. In our view, this stance is irresponsible and harmful to survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. We believe that Manchester United are continuing to protect Greenwood as an asset they can sell on.
It is clear that among a community of fiercely loyal football fans, many supporters echo the club’s sentiment and maintain that due to the dropped charges and collapse of his case, Greenwood is innocent. A sad reality of our criminal justice system is that there are many different reasons why charges are dropped and perpetrators often slip through the legal system. The popular “innocent until proven guilty” mentality fails to acknowledge the deep-rooted cracks within a legal system that fails to support survivors.
But what about the emotion behind it? Why does Greenwood’s fall from grace, Lizzo’s hypocrisy or Kevin Spacey’s abuse of power cut us so deep? It can sometimes feel that fans’ identities are so interwoven with their idol’s public image that when they topple off their cloudy perch atop Mount Olympus the aftermath is too painful to acknowledge. So we make excuses. We hold celebrities in such high esteem that we refuse to allow their image to be tarnished. We cheer them on, we sing their songs, and we watch their movies – we see ourselves reflected in their words and actions, so their fall from grace can be painful.
So what does this say for how we treat those who are brave enough to speak up? By defending perpetrators we create an environment impossible for survivors to be believed or respected. On the flipside, by believing survivors we create a safer society where survivors feel empowered to speak up about sexual violence, perpetrators are held accountable, and those in positions of power are challenged by their fans and made to do better. We need to think twice about the pedestals on which we place our singers, actors, athletes and news anchors and see them as the infallible human beings that they are.