Jason Lee: Former footballer says David Baddiel apology ‘meant a lot’

Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

Former footballer Jason Lee said comedian David Baddiel apologising in person for mocking him on national television “meant a lot”.

Mr Baddiel wore blackface and insulted his dreadlocked hair during 1990s TV show Fantasy Football League.

While he had previously expressed regret in public, he said sorry to Mr Lee’s face while appearing on the footballer’s podcast.

Their exchange was also captured on Mr Baddiel’s documentary on anti-Semitism.

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Now 51, Mr Lee played for Nottingham Forest for three seasons from 1994, becoming part of a team that finished third in the Premier League.

He scored more than 100 league goals in a career lasting more than two decades, and now works with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) on equality and diversity.

David Baddiel - from BBC images

BBC/Jonathan Birch

While Mr Baddiel had previously apologised publicly, Mr Lee said it was important to have an in-person discussion so he could share directly how the abuse had made him feel.

“Without actually having that conversation face-to-face, I don’t think any of it really counted for me,” he said.

“He’s apologised numerous times over the years, but unless you’re looking somebody in the eye and saying it to that person, it’s really not impactful.

“I know it’s taken a long time, but to have David come in, on my terms really, into my podcast studio, and take some ownership of that conversation… it was really important.”

Baddiel and Skinner posing for their show Fantasy Football League

BBC / Avalon TV

Despite the original run of Fantasy Football League finishing in 1996, Mr Lee said the abuse he suffered had lingered long after his career had ended.

He said having the conversation with Mr Baddiel – which also features in his documentary on racism, Jews Don’t Count, that aired on Monday – “was beneficial to both of us”.

“Forgiving is a strong thing,” he said.

“[The] apology’s great – I do feel that his body language, the anxiety he had to suffer to come and meet me was all genuine.

“I do a lot of restorative work, it’s a full-time job for me, [and] you have to give people the opportunity to say they’re sorry and move forward.”

‘Lack of awareness’

Fantasy Football League was recently revived on Sky, where another controversy stirred as current Forest manager Steve Cooper was mocked for his appearance.

Mr Lee said the quick apology from Sky Sports “shows that there have been some learnings” from show’s previous era, but said any scrutiny should not just fall on presenters.

“People need to be held accountable,” he said.

“You’re all part of a production team, somebody needs to be able to identify and to step in and say ‘hold on a minute, maybe you’re crossing the mark, you’re going too far’.”

Mr Lee encouraged all companies to engage in diversity training to help staff avoid problems.

“If it can ensure that you don’t make a grave error in the workplace or upset somebody, a colleague, just because you have a lack of cultural awareness, then it’s worthwhile,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to do still, but at least it’s being done – it wasn’t being done back in the day.”

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