Tony Adams, PTSD is not a punchline

Tony Adams, PTSD is not a punchline

Recently, we contacted both the BBC and Tony Adams (former Arsenal and England football captain) about another instance where PTSD was used as a punchline in a ‘joke’ during a BBC Radio 2 show.

Tony was on Claudia Winklemans’s show discussing his return to the BBC studios for the Strictly Come Dancing final in December. When asked by Claudia ‘what’s it like to be back in the building?’ he replied ‘oh yea, I got a bit of PTSD ‘oh no gotta dance again!’’ in a mocking tone of voice.

While we understand it was probably said in jest, we remain firm in our belief that PTSD is a serious condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

As such we expressed our concerns to the BBC and asked that they call out this type of behaviour in the future with this letter:

“We’re writing to you to address a comment made during Claudia Winkleman’s show on Radio 2 on 17 December 2022 (8 mins and 16 seconds into the show) surrounding PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

To be specific, we’d like to highlight our issue with the comment made by guest Tony Adams who when asked by Claudia ‘what’s it like to be back in the building?’ he replied ‘oh yea, I got a bit of PTSD ‘oh no gotta dance again!’’ in a mocking tone of voice.

There is little doubt that this comment was made in jest based on his tone, but PTSD is not funny, and it’s not a subject to take lightly. It’s a serious condition.

PTSD is a condition which some people develop after experiencing a trauma in their life such as a road traffic accident, bereavement, personal assault, natural disaster, miscarriage, traumatic childbirth, being bullied, sexual violence, childhood abuse, domestic abuse or fire.

It’s estimated that in any given week in the UK, 4 in 100 people have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – this equates to 2,612,000 people in the UK.

Using PTSD as a punchline in a joke not only further stigmatises the reality of the condition, but it also incorrectly and unhelpfully desensitises people to the debilitating symptoms that can lead to family problems, unemployment, physical health issues, self-harm, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and ultimately suicide.

We will be contacting Tony directly regarding his comment. We acknowledge this was a live broadcast, so once it was said, the damage was done, but feel that the BBC has a duty of care to its viewers which includes comments like this, and so would request that in future that presenters would call out any comments like this which are not only unnecessary, but can also be incredibly damaging to those affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

We also reached out to Tony Adams directly to remind him that as the founder of two mental health charities (Sporting Chance and Six MHS), he should be setting a good example and not making insensitive comments.

We want to be clear that this isn’t about being overly sensitive or not being able to take a joke, it’s about treating mental health conditions with the same respect as physical health conditions. We understand that some people use humour to cope with their own conditions, and so we’re not making any assumptions about Tony’s own mental health, we’re just asking him to be more thoughtful in the future and not undermine his own efforts to support people with mental health issues.

We have subsequently received a response form the BBC stating:

“Thank you for contacting us about Claudia Winkleman’s Radio 2 Show broadcast on 17 December 2022, and please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to you.

We were sorry to hear you had concerns with a comment made by Tony Adams. We can assure you it is never our intention to upset or offend anyone with anything we broadcast, nor to trivialise any condition or alienate any listeners.

In this instance Tony Adams was recalling how he felt returning to Strictly. His comment was live and unscripted and wasn’t anticipated by the presenter. We are confident it wasn’t intended to make light of the condition but we understand your concerns. We note you feel this comment should have been addressed at the time and we have shared this feedback with those responsible for this programme. It has also been recorded and circulated widely, which will help inform our editorial decisions going forward.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards,

BBC Complaints Team”

Unfortunately, this feels like a fairly ‘stock’ response – however, as a live broadcast, the responsibility of this comment does lie with Tony Adams – from whom we’ve had no response yet.

We understand that we can’t address every instance of this, but we believe that major broadcasters like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 should be doing better, and people in the mental health community should be particularly mindful of not causing harm, and so will continue to ‘pick up’ on matters such as this. 

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