Titus Bramble: Cleared, But What Now For Him?
Last week finally saw a line drawn under one of the more unsavoury elements in recent Sunderland AFC history. In a saga - or rather, debacle - that had rambled on for fully eight months, central defender Titus Bramble was cleared of all charges against him.
Bramble had been accused of two separate misdemeanours that had allegedly taken place within a hours or each other. First, he was charged with groping a woman in a nightclub in Yarm (Teeside), before then hopping into a taxi and sexually assaulting a different woman en route home. After a club suspension and lengthy ordeal, Bramble eventually walked free from Teeside Crown Court last Wednesday.
So, with everything done and dusted, and thus commentators like ourselves having permission to analyse the matter without fear of legal ramifications - what can we learn from the affair?
Let us keep clear of analysing the judicial verdict. Bramble - who had always strenuously denied the idea he had done anything improper - was absolved of all wrongdoing. The jury believed his claims. Firstly, his defence that the person who groped the first woman simply wasn't him was upheld. His second defence, that activities with the second woman in the taxi were consensual from both parties, was also seen to be true.
As is the world of social media, many have seen fit to take issue with the verdicts given. Some have offered convincing ripostes - others have been much more cynical. The truth of the matter is that the legal powers-that-be have found Bramble to be blameless in this incident, thus we shall not question that.
As a result, it would appear that Sunderland should now willingly welcome their central defender back into the first-team midst. With a cloud no longer over his head, Bramble can get back to playing football on Wearside - as should always have been the case.
However, things are not quite this simple.
This, of course, is not the first time Bramble has found himself the target of such allegations. It would be ridiculous to punish him for this fact alone - he has never been found guilty of anything - but the issue at hand is that, despite knowing full well the pitfalls that lie ahead of every modern footballer, he continues to put himself in compromising situations.
No one is suggesting footballers should not be allowed to go out and enjoy themselves. They are after all, despite what some seem to think, human. But taking necessary precautions (stop sniggering) would not be difficult.
Bramble is a player in the Premier League, one of the most viewed leagues in the world. His face is emblazoned from time to time on advertising boards, in magazines, on the television in live matches - even someone with just a passing interest in football could likely recognise his face.
This makes him a target. A target for exploitation, or simply humiliation. Either way, his status demands that he keep on his guard. Bramble, unlike the vast majority in his profession, seems unable to do this.
The first suggestion would be to simply not go out drinking. As a rule, a footballer's career is limited in its timespan - there is plenty of time for Bramble to go on nights out after he finishes his playing days. This is perhaps a tad unfair, as by that age, it is likely nights out will hold no appeal.
Therefore, the sensible thing to do - if he must insist on going out - would be to ensure someone is there with him to keep him out of any potential trouble. Footballers hardly struggle to find people to surround themselves with; taking even just one friend to steer him clear of certain temptations (be they alcoholic or female) could save Bramble a whole lot of bother.
Though, if mere irresponsibility is deemed insufficient as a reason for Sunderland getting rid of Bramble, then surely the timing of the alleged incidents is. The defender was arrested in the early hours of Wednesday 28 September, less than 36 hours after his side had succumbed to a 1-2 defeat away at newly promoted Norwich City.
That defeat was a shambolic one, and had many fans rightly wondering if manager Steve Bruce had lost the dressing room. For Bramble to then go out drinking the following night is simply unprofessional. Where one would expect his teammates were tuned into a week of hard training in order to right the wrongs of a poor start to the season, Bramble's attentions were focussed upon partying and forgoing sleep.
Even if he did nothing wrong in a legal sense, Bramble's actions were entirely unacceptable from the point of view of his employers. He had hardly set the world on fire in the opening months of the season - his involvement in this whole affair didn't exactly show a willingness of his part to improve.
Titus Bramble may well have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Crown last week. Sunderland, however, should not see this as reason to welcome him back with open arms. Ignoring the fact that he is perhaps surplus to requirements anyway, his actions are not reflective of a man giving his all to the club that employs him.