‘Match Of The Day’ Pundits Boycott Show In Support Of Gary Lineker [Update]
4:00 PM EST on March 10, 2023
Gary Lineker is more or less a combination of Jim Nantz, Mike Tirico, Rece Davis, and Jemele Hill, which is to say that he is everywhere you want to look when you're keen on soccer in Britain, and he will get political on your ass when the need arises. He has been the fullest face of the sport for almost three decades on no less than five different networks, most notably as the main host on Match Of The Day, which is all three network pre- and postgame NFL shows, plus Red Zone, rolled into one. He's a big deal.
He has also, as they say, picked a few fights on his Twitter account, mostly jousting against Brexit, the Conservative Party, and most recently against British Home Secretary And Dog Whistle Suella Braverman's video outlining a new government plan to ban illegal immigrants arriving in the UK from ever claiming asylum, in a bid to address an alleged rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats. Lineker described the plan in a tweet as an "immeasurably cruel policy" being directed at "the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s."
That one crossed the British Broadcasting Corporation's mandate that presenters "keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies," and after a few days in which he largely refused to either muzzle his tweeting profile or apologize for pointing out Braverman's essential Bravermanity, he was pulled off the air.
BBC General HQ put out a statement pointing to "extensive discussions with Gary and his team in recent days," and then acknowledged that "he will step back from presenting Match Of The Day until we've got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media."
"We have never said that Gary should be an opinion free zone, or that he can't have a view on issues that matter to him, but we have said that he should keep well away from taking sides on ... political issues or controversies," the statement went.
The interesting part is in what comes next. Fellow pundit Ian Wright, the former Arsenal, Crystal Palace, and England national team star, said he will not appear on Match Of The Day Saturday. "Everybody knows what Match Of The Day means to me, but I've told the BBC I won't be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity," he said. Alan Shearer, another MOTD presenter and like Wright a star with the national team and with Newcastle, Blackburn and Southampton, also decided to drop mic and stay home, saying that he had "informed the BBC that I won't be appearing on MOTD tomorrow night." Micah Richards said he won't be there, and it doesn't look like Alex Scott will be, either. The possibility that the studio will be empty is, sadly, unrealistic, but it would be a statement worth making without breaching anybody's skittish views of politics, except of course the corporate kind.
This would be akin to James Brown, Bill Cowher, Howie Long, and Jimmy Johnson walking off the set of The NFL Today, but most American sports pundits are either quiet about their off-the-field views, aggressively neutral, or no longer working at the networks. Lineker either overplayed his hand, stood on principles he has publicly held for years, or just decided that he and not his boss/corporate stooge owns his tongue. We'd prefer to think it was options B and C, because that seems more in keeping with Lineker's M.O., but there could be a bit of A in there, too.
If this is the end of the line for Lineker, it will be one more example of corporate cowardice guiding audience tastes, but that's hardly the news here—sort of a Dog Scratches Dog story. But if that is so, we'll still always have this shining moment in broadcast history, from his on-air claim that he would do the show in his underwear if 5,000-to-1 preseason shot Leicester won the Premier League in 2016. The Foxes did, and, well:
A performative triumph we prefer none of his American counterparts ever choose for themselves ... unless it's Hubie Brown.
Update (4:28 p.m. ET): Lineker can go ahead and claim victory:
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