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Haiti soccer scandal showcases toxic power of cancel culture

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Soccer executive Yves Jean-Bart had served two decades as President of the Haitian Football Federation when anonymous accusations of abhorrent sexual abuse came at him fast and furious. It was 2020, and the unproven claims spread through the media like wildfire.

In the blink of an eye — despite the total absence of criminal charges — he was removed from his leadership role and banned for life from the sport. No matter that the Haitian justice system had already investigated and cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.

Life as Jean-Bart knew it was “#canceled” by the power of suggestion. I know: He was my client.

But the Court of Arbitration for Sport, responsible for overseeing international sports bodies, including soccer’s governing organization, recently overturned the lifetime ban, noting “inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the statements of the victims and witnesses.”

The rush to cancel seems to have been horribly misplaced. Now the 75-year-old must pick up the pieces of his shattered life and attempt to move on. But is that even possible after his reputation was destroyed? It’s a Herculean task. The beleaguered Haitian soccer official is likely to encounter many who persist in doubting his innocence. Attacks on his character were shared on a global scale and became publicly accepted as fact, which he must now attempt to unwind.

The case of Jean-Bart’s professional and personal destruction by rumor and innuendo perfectly exemplifies the dangers that lurk in a cancel culture-driven society. Rushing to judgment without facts is a devastating phenomenon that ruins lives: It is fast, furious, relentless and horrifyingly commonplace in the world today.

In Jean-Bart’s case, the initial allegations were made by a YouTube blogger who has also shared bylines in the UK newspaper The Guardian. The mainstream media then latched onto the accusations and amplified them. Unverified news spread around the world with lightning speed. Intense pressure immediately mounted, prompting the suspension, and subsequent expulsion, of Jean-Bart from the sport to which he dedicated his life.

Jean-Bart chose to fight to clear his name; I agreed to advise him and to serve as his spokesperson with the international media.

Had he not pushed for justice, then the court of public opinion would likely have prevailed — without evidence — and his lifetime banishment from soccer held. Therein lies the tragic power of cancel culture.

Cancel culture deprives its targets of due process, then operates as judge and jury, meting out mob justice that may or may not be rooted in facts. In Jean-Bart’s case, there was an assumption of guilt from the start — a hallmark of cancel culture, which automatically defaults to outrage.

In this instance, Jean-Bart refused to accept the punishment and demanded due process, as was his right. His determination to fight back resulted in a full exoneration by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

With cancel culture, the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is turned on its head. Three years after Jean-Bart was accused, he has been exonerated. Yet he will likely struggle against the allegations for the rest of his life because of the power of social media and the permanence of internet content.

The crushing power of cancel culture is real — and the harm it can cause can last a lifetime.

Amplifying allegations without giving the accused a fair chance to prove his or her innocence is inherently dangerous and unfair. The case of Jean-Bart should serve as a cautionary tale of how quickly cancel culture can change a life, the need to sometimes withhold judgment until the wheels of justice have turned out a fact-based conclusion.

Evan Nierman is CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan and author of the forthcoming book: The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad.

Tags assumption of guilt Cancel culture Court of Arbitration for Sport due process evidence Haiti innocent until proven guilty mob justice Outrage reputation soccer Social media Yves Jean-Bart

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