It is fair to say that Titus Bramble is not having the best of years. Injury, arrests, loss of form, and a club suspension have all somehow managed to befall the player within the last 12 months or so. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I mean, it is fair to say that there was not a shortage of Sunderland fans quick to predict a calamitous and probably short career at the club for Bramble when Steve Bruce nabbed him from Wigan last year, but football concerns alone were at the heart of those predictions. When on the pitch and injury-free, he has proven a dependable and popular player. No debating that.
In fact, for a player to overcome a spell as a comedy figure at our bitterest rivals and multiple arrests yet still largely retain the good will and support of the fans is testament to the quality he has displayed on the pitch. In all honesty, that makes the task of attempting to look at the whole Bramble situation objectively a tough one.
As we are all no doubt aware, Bramble has been charged by police with two separate counts of sexual assault and for urinating in a public place. That much is public record. I can't stress enough at this stage that no one here has any intention or interest in attempting to pre-empt the verdict. That will be decided by far better-informed and more qualified people than any of us.
That said, my own personal opinion is that no guilty verdict is required here to give the club good cause to cut their ties with the player. Naturally, I don't expect that to be a popular view. The 'innocent until proven guilty' philosophy forms the basis of the legal system in this country and one that I am a firm believer in also. This is not only a legal matter, however, but a football one too, and whilst the club is not in a position to judge Bramble in a legal sense, they most certainly have an obligation to protect themselves and dictate the responsibilities players representing Sunderland AFC have to their employers.
The crux of my argument is this – no matter what happens from this point onwards, it is undeniable that Titus Bramble has brought the club's name into some very damaging press, and not for the first time. I was proud of the way in which the club rallied around the player just over a year ago when the first of such stories broke. I believed it was the right thing to do. Anyone can be a victim of circumstance and the decision to give Bramble the benefit of the doubt was entirely justified.
But less sympathy and understanding can be given to those who lack the capacity to learn from such experiences. When Bramble had his previous incident, that should have been enough to raise alarm bells regarding his lifestyle and the care with which he protects himself. Clearly, he has failed to heed the warning and so it becomes difficult to trust the player to avoid further difficulties in the future.
There will be those still sympathetic to Bramble's plight, of course. Some will cite that opportunist vultures preying on the status of Premier League footballers to make an easy buck to be the cause of this. It's not difficult to believe that such individuals are out there. However Bramble is not the only player with a target on his back to these people, yet he seems to be the only one plagued by such issues. Clearly, and even assuming he is innocent of the accusations, that suggests that he is doing something specific to attract police attention.
When Niall Quinn stepped down from his chairman's duties last month, he set about a mission to sell the club around the globe to attract the level of sponsorship required to take the club further. The club ethos he plans on selling to the world is the importance the club places on their privileged position within the community. That message is surely somewhat undermined if a player is retained with a track record of dragging the club's name into well-publicised stories relating to alleged sexual assaults. Lets not forget that when these things happen, there tends to be an accompanying picture of the player – complete with the shirt sponsor adorning his chest.
I like Bramble. I genuinely hopes he comes through this latest incident with a clear name. I simply don't consider players who are unable to be relied upon to represent the club responsibly at all times to be the right fit for Sunderland AFC. Unfortunately, Bramble has proven himself to be this sort and must now be considered a liability. A cynical and cold-hearted perspective? Perhaps. But also a fair and pragmatic one, I feel.