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Jamie Carragher and the Elephant in the Room

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It’s time to talk about the Liverpool legend, and what, if anything, can be learned.

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Carra in happier, less spittier times.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

As if losing to Manchester United were not horrible and humiliating enough, Liverpool fans have since had to come to terms with The Incident over legendary Red Jamie Carragher. The 40-year-old Sky Sports pundit was caught on camera spitting out his car window, allegedly intended for another man but instead hitting a 14-year-old girl.

It is a gross act, and one that brings shame no doubt to the former defender, but also to his current and former employers and his fans.

Like other shameful and gross acts by our players, past (and past) and present, it puts supporters is a tight spot. People, by our nature, are tribal. Football brings out said tribalism, often causing regrettable gut reactions, defending those we have followed and loved for years. Each time an incident like this occurs, you see people bending over backward to defend the indefensible. Or, short of that, encouraging folks to “move on.”

For his part, Carragher isn’t defending his action, merely describing it as a “moment of madness.”

“You can’t obviously condone that behaviour no matter what. In any way shape or form, where you are, who you represent,” Carragher said in his apology. “I’ve let Sky Sports down, my family and the family involved. It was a moment of madness, it’s difficult for me to explain.

“It’s just that moment of madness for four or five seconds. No matter the circumstances, you can’t ever behave like that.

“It’s the only time I’ve reacted like that, will ever react like that. I’ve got no excuse. I called the family and they were upset.”

Of course, he’s right. You can’t act like that, regardless of the circumstances. And he’s right that he cannot explain it. The inner workings of the brain are difficult for any of us to comprehend at the best of times, and we all have regrettable moments that we cannot explain in the aftermath.

It is even more baffling considering the years of banter he has had to play his way through on and off the pitch. In this regard, I think we can take a moment to at least try to have some understanding of the situation, if not condone it. Humans are complicated creatures, ones whose emotional centers of the brain are first to react—first to make a decision—whilst the logical centers come in after to try to explain why they acted the way they acted.

And while Carragher was known for a rash challenge or three during his playing days, his years of experience of dealing with banter should have made him more likely to resist his emotional response, not less. This is to say, you’d expect him to be one of the least likely people to react in this way, especially considering his professional livelihood possibly depends on it.

Again, this is not a defense of Carragher, merely an attempt to understand. And while he says he cannot understand why he did what he did, and seems sincere in his apology, it does not mean it should be without consequence.

It was an emotional loss, yes, but if he was so easily goaded, it seems likely that a similar incident is just waiting to happen at some point down the line. Rival fans will be waiting for him, on the lookout, trying to get a reaction. Spitting, while gross and shameful, is mostly harmless in the end. But could be something more violent down the line? Could his next inexplicable reaction be much worse?

Perhaps it is not fair to end his punditry career over one incident, or even to speculate on acts he hasn’t yet committed. But likewise, we’ve seen nothing of the sort form Gary Neville or Thierry Henry. Being paid millions to comment on football is a privilege few are afforded. If you cannot take the public notoriety, and therefore heat, that comes with it, perhaps it is best for all parties to step away.

As for now, Carragher has not tendered his resignation, and Sky Sports have suspended him while they consider the best way forward. No matter what happens, let’s hope this is a sort of “rock bottom” for Carra, and not the start of a troubling trend.