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How important is a pre-game T-shirt? As important as Sir Alex wants it to be

Manchester United v Stoke City - Premier League

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United warms up in a t-shirt for the Kick It Out campaign alongside team mate Rio Ferdinand before during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 20, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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It’s ridiculous that Alex Ferguson’s about to let a T-shirt become a point of controversy for his club, but I suppose that’s what you get with a manager whose presence helps define the club. If he didn’t believe his word was gospel, he might have enough rational doubt to keep him from being an insanely successful head coach.

After Rio Ferdinand declined to wear a “Kick It Out” T-shirt during today’s pre-game warmups, Ferguson’s about to let a different kind of insanity come through.

Earlier this week, Ferguson said all of his players would wear the shirts intended to promote the Professional Footballers Association’s anti-racism campaign. Ferdinand joined other players (like Jason Roberts and Joleon Lescott) in declining to wear the shirts.

Predictably, Ferguson was not thrilled:

Speaking to United’s in-house TV channel MUTV, Ferguson said: “I am disappointed. I said yesterday that the players would be wearing it in support of the PFA and that every player should adhere to it.

“And he goes and lets us down. We will deal with it, don’t worry.”

Ferguson added that Ferdinand’s decision to go against his instructions was “embarrassing for me”.

That embarrassment is more than just one player defying a prediction. It’s an ego trip with roots in Roberts’ Thursday comments about the campaign:
“I find it hard to wear a T-shirt after what has happened in the last year. I won’t wear one. I’m totally committed to kicking racism out of football but when there’s a movement I feel represents the issue in the way that speaks for me and my colleagues, then I will happily support it. I think people feel let down by what used to be called ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’. People don’t feel like they have been strong enough.”

On Friday, Ferguson gave a curiosity arrogant, dismissive response:
“Yes, all my players will wear it. I think all the players will be wearing it. I only heard that Jason Roberts is different. He is very different, he plays his game and is in the studio 20 minutes after it, it’s a great privilege.”

For Ferdinand to defy Ferguson after he so casually discarded Roberts’ concerns was certainly a blow, but prolonging the problem by promising recompense is an act of pride.

Ferguson’s views on the PFA’s campaign are no more valuable than Ferdinand’s. Given the player chose his action in a way that didn’t infringe on others’ ability to chose theirs, this slight is something that can just be let go. It only matters if Ferguson lets it. If he lets it go, nobody will construe Ferdinand, Ferguson, or Manchester United as being tolerant of racism.

They can, however, construe Ferguson (and Manchester United) as unwilling to tolerate differing views. Ferdinand’s actions imply agreement with Roberts’ reasoning, a perfectly justifiable point of view. It’s not one that Manchester United has to agree with, but it’s one they should respect. If they disagree with Ferdinand’s actions, there’s a way to articulate that without also implying the player is contractually obligated to accept the club’s view on Kick It Out.

Ferguson’s on a huge ego trip here. He decided Manchester United will support this cause. He arrogantly dismissed criticism of the campaign and got burned when his most-prominent black player defied him. Now he’s likely to compound the problem by punishing Ferdinand, all because he couldn’t keep from taking an unprovoked jab at Jason Roberts.

Just move on, Ferguson. This really could get so much worse.