Just a few short years ago, Sunderland soccer player Adam Johnson seemed to have the world at his feet. Johnson was feted for a long and glorious career after winning the premier league championship and making his debut for the England international soccer team. Now, Johnson’s career is in tatters; he is a convicted pedophile and faces a lengthy term in prison for his crimes. Johnson has been sacked by Sunderland, his premier league soccer club, and awaits sentence. The judge in the case told Johnson to expect a term of between five and 10 years in jail.
The Johnson case has also cost Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne her job; she resigned in the wake of the Johnson pedophile scandal. As a result of Mrs. Byrne’s resignation, both Sunderland and the British premier soccer league have lost one of the very few women in a senior position at a British Soccer club.
BREAKING: Sunderland CEO Margaret Byrne resigns over Adam Johnson case. pic.twitter.com/2uDmo0IL81— TheSPORTbible (@TSBible) March 8, 2016
According to the Mirror. Mrs. Byrne, a fully qualified lawyer, was aware that 28-year-old Johnson had admitted grooming a 15-year-old Sunderland fan and had told police that he had kissed the girl in his car. Despite this, Byrne decided to allow Johnson to keep playing for Sunderland.
Sunderland had initially suspended Johnson when he was arrested, but he was reinstated after just 16 days as Sunderland fought to avoid relegation from the premier league. Johnson was allowed to continue playing for Sunderland until he changed his plea on some of the charges he faced to guilty at the beginning of his trial last month. At that point, he was sacked by Sunderland.
Johnson played 28 matches for Sunderland between his reinstatement and the beginning of his trial last month. It is estimated that Johnson earned some $4.5 million from Sunderland and from endorsements during this period.
Many Sunderland fans were outraged when Johnson’s pedophile behavior came to light, and that anger grew when it became clear that Mrs. Byrne was fully aware of the extent of Johnson’s behavior. According to BBC Sport, the anger felt by Sunderland fans eventually made Byrne’s position untenable.
In a statement to the press, Sunderland accepted that not only had fans been let down by Johnson, Sunderland football club let them down as well.
“Johnson’s victim was very badly let down first and foremost by the player and his despicable actions, but also by the club they support.
“Mr Johnson lied to the club; he also lied to our fans and they have every right to feel aggrieved by this.”
According to the Guardian Byrne had been sent a six-page memo by Johnson’s legal team. where it was made clear that Johnson had admitted that he had sent suggestive messages to the girl involved and that he had kissed her. Despite this knowledge, Byrne reinstated Johnson, allowed him to play for Sunderland, and failed to notify the Sunderland board of directors of what she knew. Apparently, Byrne also told Johnson that Sunderland would fight to clear his name.
Sky Sports reports that Margaret Byrne accepts that she made a serious error of judgment and apologized to those affected by her decision to reinstate Johnson.
“I recognise that, as CEO, my involvement with Mr Johnson and the decision to allow him to continue to represent Sunderland was a serious mistake.
“I accept that Mr Johnson should not have been permitted to play again, irrespective of what he was going to plead. It was a serious error of judgment and I accept full responsibility for this.”
Johnson was convicted last week of “sexual activity with a minor” and had previously admitted two less serious charges. Johnson will be sentenced later this month, and it is likely that his soccer career will be over before he is released from prison.
[Photo by Scott Heppell/AP]