Sky's Andy Gray fired in sexism row
One of British football's leading television commentators was fired Tuesday for "unacceptable behavior," days after making sexist remarks about a female match official that sparked widespread debate about the role of women in the sport.
Andy Gray, who has been the face of British broadcaster Sky Sports' football coverage for the past two decades, was dismissed with immediate effect after evidence came to light of "unacceptable and offensive behavior" in an off-air incident last month.
That emerged a day after the former Scotland striker and broadcast colleague Richard Keys were reprimanded and removed from duty for making derogatory comments about lineswoman Sian Massey, former referee Wendy Toms and West Ham executive Karren Brady.
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"Andy Gray's contract has been terminated for unacceptable behavior," Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis said. "After issuing a warning yesterday, we have no hesitation in taking this action after becoming aware of new information today."
Francis was referring to footage which appears to show Gray making a suggestive comment and gesture toward Sky Sports colleague Charlotte Jackson in the studio.
London-based law firm Schillings later said that it has been "been instructed by Andy Gray in relation to the termination of his contract by BSkyB."
The outspoken Gray, who was widely reported to be earning 1.7 million pounds ($2.7 million) a year from Sky, has made a name for himself with his forthright opinions - particularly on referees - and insight into football, and for the way he embraced technology to revolutionize the way viewers saw the game.
His Scottish brogue was also seen as ideally suited to football commentary, helping to add drama to the matches he was covering.
However, all the respect Gray had built up over the last 20 years was lost when he and Keys made disparaging remarks about Massey prior to a Premier League between Wolverhampton and Liverpool on Saturday.
The 55-year-old Gray questioned whether Massey knew the offside rule - widely seen as a barometer of basic football knowledge - and made an abusive reference to Toms, saying she had been "hopeless" as a lineswoman. The remarks were leaked to a Sunday newspaper.
Further footage which compromised Gray and another member of Sky Sports' commentary team - Andy Burton - was also passed to the media on Monday.
In that incident, Burton was talking to Gray off-air on the touchline prior to the same Wolves-Liverpool and said: "Apparently a female lino today, bit of a looker."
Continuing to remark on Massey's appearance, Burton, who has since been taken off air, added that another member of the Sky Sports crew said Massey was "all right."
"Now, I don't know if I should trust his judgment on that?" Burton said.
Gray replied: "No, I wouldn't. I definitely wouldn't ... I can see her from here," before swearing and adding: "What do women know about the offside rule?"
Gray hadn't publicly apologized for his remarks, unlike Keys, who telephoned Massey on Monday.
Sky hasn't said when or if Keys will return to the air.
Keys and Gray have been widely condemned by media commentators, anti-discrimination groups and footballers, with many calling them to resign or be fired.
Brady said the comments made her "blood boil" and England captain Rio Ferdinand said the pair's views were "prehistoric."
Some, however, described the exchange between Keys and Gray as tongue-in-cheek banter.
Gray played his club football for Aston Villa, Wolves and Everton, among others, in a playing career that spanned 17 years. After retiring, he was an assistant coach at Villa but soon turned his focus to a career in the media, repeatedly shunning opportunities to get back into football management.
Originally a co-commentator, he became a more visible presence by operating as a pundit in the studio too, embracing technological advancements quicker than Sky Sports' rivals. His use of touch-screen technology, where he tracked players' runs and dissected team tactics, appealed to football aficionados.
The 25-year-old Massey has been withdrawn as a lineswoman for Tuesday's fourth-tier league match between Crewe and Bradford, the Professional Game Match Officials organization said.
"Sian is an excellent professional who has unwittingly found herself in the middle of a story that has nothing to do with her competence as a match official. Sian only wants to be notable for her performance as an assistant referee and is keen for things to get back to normal so she can return to officiating as soon as possible," PMGO general manager Mike Riley said.