Mason Greenwood verdict: How have Manchester United got it so wrong?

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A statement from Manchester United on 21st September 2023 confirmed that Mason Greenwood will attempt to recommence his career away from the club, six months after the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges of attempted rape and assault. Many believe the way Manchester United have dealt with the Greenwood scandal has been abhorrent and pathetic, even if the club has finally made the correct decision not to reintegrate Greenwood into the squad. This is not a standalone issue but one of many off-pitch incidents, such as racism, gambling, and online abuse, in recent years that distract from on-pitch success and risk bringing the game into disrepute. 

In January 2022, Greenwood was arrested by Manchester Police, following accusations of assaults, via social media, after which he was suspended by Manchester United. In October of the same year, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was charging the 21-year-old with attempted rape, engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Then, in February all charges against Greenwood were dropped after a key witness withdrew their involvement. Following his release, United conducted their own internal review which lasted over six months. 

Through their indecisiveness, the club has risked normalising the behaviour shown by Greenwood

As the club stated, this has been a difficult process for all involved. However, many are asking whether the videos and photographs seen by millions across social media leave any room for interpretation, leading them to demand the termination of Greenwood’s contract. To clarify, United do not have the same obligations as a court of law.  A guilty verdict in court and a moral decision by a club that acts as a role model to millions of children and adults across the world are totally different. The standard of proof in a court of law (meaning the need for one party in a legal dispute to show they are correct) is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ due to the need for fair justice, especially in cases involving rape and assault. For United, however, the standard of proof is distinctly lower as matters of employment are civil cases which follow a standard of proof ‘on the balance of probabilities’. Through their indecisiveness, the club has risked normalising the behaviour shown by Greenwood, which would be especially concerning given the impressionability of a young fanbase.

As if the lengthy timeframe for the decision to be made had not tarnished the club’s image enough, the statements following their decision have created more outrage. Both Greenwood’s and Richard Arnold’s (Manchester United’s Chief Executive Officer) statements insist that Greenwood was cleared of all charges. He was not. The charges against him were dropped. There is a clear difference between those outcomes, and this may be interpreted as an attempt by both the player and the club to diminish the severity of his actions. Arnold also stated he is “satisfied that Mason did not commit the acts he was charged with.” Even with the new evidence the club was issued with, it is problematic for Arnold to express these views to the public, on a matter that was never resolved in a court of law and was internally investigated by the club.

The club’s statements have placed the club at the centre of the issue

Perhaps this stance by the club should not be seen as surprising given their admission that “reintegration was one of the outcomes we considered and planned for”. This is problematic on two fronts. Firstly, how anyone can view the evidence and even consider that he should be allowed to train or play for the club again is bewildering to the majority of football fans. Secondly, it suggests that Greenwood would have played again if it wasn’t for the significant and unsurprising public backlash to rumours that his reintegration was likely. The club also identified their duty of care towards the player throughout the process, which is somewhat valid. Yet this is a duty of care towards a 21-year-old man who has had multiple years earning over £50,000 a week, as well as having previous issues with the police (due to breaking Covid regulations), on top of various reports of the youngster’s blunt attitude towards coaches. Greenwood is not a squeaky-clean teenager anymore. He is a grown man who should now deal with the consequences of his actions without being babied by his former employers.  It seems hypocritical that the club are so desperate to be seen as morally correct on this issue of duty of care, especially given previous circumstances, where ex-players have complained about the absence of support from the club.

The assessment that the case has been a “difficult one for everyone associated with Manchester United” is correct. Yet it has been most difficult for the alleged victim; the club’s statements have placed the club at the centre of the issue, rather than addressing the crucial matter of violence and abuse. Through their actions and words, United have reduced the significance of domestic violence as an issue that is prominent in today’s society. Their focus has been on maintaining a positive public image and attempting to allow Greenwood a path back into football. Perhaps public backlash over the length of time it has taken to make decisions wouldn’t have been so severe, if they had consistently and respectfully addressed the key aspect of this case – violence and assault have no place in society at all, especially not in football as one of the most watched and covered sports across the world.

Through their actions and words, United have reduced the significance of domestic violence as an issue that is prominent in today’s society

At heart, it should have been an easy decision for Manchester United but they have dithered for far too long over an issue that should have highlighted football’s role as a platform to stand against certain issues. Instead, United are rightly being criticised across the media for effectively picking the only choice left to them, rather than making the correct moral choice months ago.

Image: Steve Collis via Wikimedia Commons

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