On Saturday, Aston Villa Football Club posted on their Facebook a seemingly innocuous message: Happy Passover. Its meaning was simple. Villa fans come in all shapes and sizes, all races and ethnicities, all cultures and all religions. Therefore, it makes sense to wish Jewish fans “Chag Sameach” on one of their biggest festival days.
As of noon on Tuesday, the post had 32,000 reactions, with 27,500 of those being “angry” faces.
On Monday, the Birmingham Mail published an article entitled, “Aston Villa respond after controversial reaction to Facebook post.” The article notes that Villa responded with a comment on the post stating, “ ”The club deplores religious intolerance of any form and is an inclusive organisation who welcomes people of all faiths.”
I’ll leave aside the fact that the club chose to respond in a comment rather than a full Facebook post addressing the issue, particularly as its next post, “Happy Holi,” in celebration of the Hindu festival of colors, also received 400 angry reactions.
Instead, I’d like to talk about the Mail’s headline. I don’t normally stop the stories directly related to the Villa to address the media directly, particularly an outlet at which our respected former editor now works, and that provides us with plenty of information.
But “angry” reactions to a Facebook post on Passover should never be labeled “controversial.”
Controversial (/kɒntrəˈvəːʃ(ə)l/): giving rise or likely to give rise to controversy or public disagreement.
Now, some might contend that the original post from Villa was “controversial” in that the public sure seemed to disagree with it. And it’s true that people probably could (and should) have started heated discussions—a “controversy”—about those bitter little faces. But there should be no real discussion about whether those angry faces were, in fact, “controversial.” They are anti-Semitic, plain and simple.
As an editor myself, I know the difficulties in titling an article, especially in the days in which clicks are equated with currency. Controversy = clicks = currency. Yet the number of editors in today’s world is falling fast, and those who remain have a duty to the profession to find a balance between a gripping headline and speaking the truth.
Racism and religious intolerance has no place in Aston Villa Football Club. The organization has a duty to do better in making that known. But the Mail, skimmed most days by most Villa fans, also has a duty to its readers. By crafting a different headline, calling out the intolerance inherent in these reactions, it has the opportunity to remind Villa fans that their compatriots in claret and blue all have every right to take their place in the circle of supporters that surrounds the world.
Call it as you see it, Birmingham Mail. Make it known that Villa fandom is for everyone. Angry reactions to a holiday post celebrating a different religion are intolerant, not controversial. Full stop.