Why should Gary Lineker stay in his lane over Brexit?
PUBLISHED: 17:23 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 12:06 28 July 2018
If espousing politics was good enough for Muhammad Ali, it's good enough for the presenter of Match of the Day
"Stay in your lane".
That was the message from Katie Perrior, Theresa May's former communications adviser, today in response to Gary Lineker coming out in favour of a People's Vote on a Brexit deal. In what was dubbed a "furious tirade" on talkRADIO by the Daily Express' website, the insinuation was that Lineker - a FOOTBALLER, of all things - should keep his trap shut and leave politics to the grown-ups.
Which poses a few questions. Not least as to who Ms Perrior believes should be allowed to pontificate on what. She, for example, now appears to make a living traipsing round studios posing as an expert in political communications, her experience having been as advisor to a comically inept prime minister who would almost certainly fail the Turing test.
Secondly, weren't we all supposed to have had enough of experts? Wasn't the whole argument of the Brexiteers that the establishment had got it wrong all the time and that it was the wisdom of the great British public that trumped these so-called "experts" with their "qualifications" and their "facts"?
But more than this, there's an unspoken snobbishness here about the fact that Gary Lineker is a sportsman and, as such, must have the mental capacity of a goose and inability to possess any more cognition beyond KICK and MUST KICK BALL.
True, the transformation of Lineker into the de facto leader of Britain's non-existent centrist party has been quite something and largely unforeseen. Although perhaps it should have been unsurprising - intelligent and urbane with an intellectual curiosity that took his career to Catalonia and Japan, the BBC's foremost sports broadcaster possesses a sharp wit lacking in so many professional Brexiteers.
Perhaps it's because we don't expect it from sports people in this country. A few examples apart, we don't mix sport and politics, like Gerard Piqué and Pep Guardiola backing Catalan independence or NFL players taking the knee.
There are exceptions. James McClean refusing to wear a poppy. Robbie Fowler's t-shirt supporting sacked Liverpool dockers. Brian Clough turning up on miners' pickets lines. Joey Barton's vague fancy of being the Nietzsche of Fleetwood.
A few politicians were sportspeople. Sebastian Coe, but he gets a pass for 2012. Tanni Grey-Thompson sits in the Lords, worthy and putting no-one's back up. Menzies Campbell once held the British 100m record, but that was before the invention of colour so few recall.
But it's much more common elsewhere. George Weah, of course, is president of Liberia, although more seasoned observers of Liberian politics than me would have to tell you if he's doing any good. Manny Pacquiao is a senator in the Philippines, Vitali Klitschko the mayor of Kiev. In Central and South America it's almost an established career path. Romário sits in Brazil's congress. Cuauhtémoc Blanco, he of the bunny hop at USA '94, is the governor of Morelos in Mexico.
And then there's Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
But back to Lineker. Why wouldn't we expect footballers, who are well-travelled and spend their days surrounded by people from all around the world, sharing lives and experiences, to hold broadly liberal views?
In a sporting context where a player is as likely to move to Madrid or Moscow as Manchester or Milton Keynes, why wouldn't we think their world views might be outlook-looking? (And of course it was the Bosman ruling, a European Court of Justice decision, that freed players from pre-existing shackles to clubs).
Once upon a time footballers retired, opened a pub and expounded considerably less liberal views over a pint of Watneys Red Barrel. But those days have gone.
So rather than tell Lineker to stay in his lane, let him have his say. You can follow him on Twitter or not. As long as he's not introducing Match of the Day with 'coming up, Burnley versus Crystal Palace, but first here's why we need to stay in the European Economic Area', that's fine.
And as for sportspeople straying into politics? Well, the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, said he was prepared to go to prison rather than fight people he had no quarrel with. If espousing politics is good enough for the greatest, it's good enough for a man who sells crisps.