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Hate speech or over-exuberant sports taunting?

The most bitter local rivalry in British football is probably the one between Celtic United and Rangers, a pair of Glasgow teams that long have dominated Scottish soccer. Unlike the rivalries between, say, Liverpool and Everton or Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the Celtic-Rangers rivalry has major sectarian overtones. Celtic is the team of choice for Catholics, Rangers for Protestants.

Last weekend, Celtic defeated Rangers 1-0 in the League Cup Final. Caitlin Brown, an over-exuberant physical therapist for the Celtic women’s team, responded with a post on Facebook that said, “F*** the Huns.”

“The Huns” is a derogatory name for the Rangers used by some Celtic fans. It dates back to World War I. The most common explanation for its origin is that it was aimed at Rangers-supporting workers at the part-German owned Harland & Wolff company, who discouraged Catholics from working at the shipyard.

Facebook removed Brown’s post on the theory that it violated the company’s rules against hate speech. Brown unwisely made a second attempt with a post that said, “Since FB removed my post for saying F the Huns.” She has now deleted the account.

It seems obvious that Brown wasn’t aiming a slur at Protestants. Rather, she was simply using a generic term of abuse towards Rangers and their supporters — like the way Everton fans refer to Liverpool as “The Shite.” In other words, this wasn’t genuine hate speech; rather it was overly exuberant sports taunting

However, given the ugly sectarian history of their rivalry with Rangers, it’s understandable that Celtic is taking the matter seriously. Reportedly, the club is investigating the matter.

In a sane world, Brown would apologize and explain that she wasn’t trying to cast sectarian aspersions. Celtic, in turn, would admonish her, and that would be the end of the matter. Brown would keep her job.

Unfortunately, we live in a world gone mad. It will be interesting to see how this matter plays out.