Sunday 23 October 2016

Paul Kimmage: A sportswriter's job is to expose the truth but where do you draw the line?

An anonymous note leaves our writer searching for reasons to be enthusiastic

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

Floyd Mayweather has been convicted of hitting women on three different occasions
Floyd Mayweather has been convicted of hitting women on three different occasions

'You give a penalty after a striker goes sprawling in the box. But as the fouled player prepares to take the spot kick, he whispers, “I can’t believe you bought that dive”, and winks. What do you do?' - You are the Ref by Keith Hackett and Paul Trevillion

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YOU are the sportswriter. You’re driving home on Tuesday evening after a day at the races. Paul Scholes, the former Manchester United midfielder, is on the radio. You’ve never heard Scholes being interviewed before. Scholesy didn’t like the spotlight, they said. Paul was a man of few words.

His autobiography, My Story, was a collection of photographs with extended captions . . .

“Take that, you ****’s!”

But he’s been everywhere since he retired — a column in the paper, a pundit on the box, and now here, live, as you drive home from Punchestown, joshing on Off the Ball with Joe Molloy. A man with a voice! A man with opinions!

The best he ever played against? Impossible to answer he says, citing Zidane, Romario, Viera and Messi. The best he ever played with? Ryan Giggs. “Such a special talent,” he says, “was out of this world at 40 years of age and probably still the best player in the club.”

You listen and smile and wonder how you’d respond if you were sitting in Molloy’s chair:

(a) “Yeah, Giggs was a wonderful player.”


(b) “Is this the same Ryan Giggs who slept with his brother’s wife?”

Where do you draw the line?

You are the sportswriter. You’ve been commissioned to travel to Los Angeles to interview one of the greatest athletes of all time. The venue is a plush hotel in Santa Monica. You arrive early and secure a secluded room and refreshments. He arrives late but places no restrictions on your time.

The interview begins. He has done this a million times before and you’re aware of the need to engage him. Research is the key. You’ve spent a week trawling the archives for every fact and figure about his life. He settles early and tells some stories you haven’t heard before. It’s going well. He’s clearly enjoying himself.

But there’s one question you know he is not going to enjoy.

The year is X. He is driving in the early hours through the streets of Y and has reached a stop sign. There’s a woman on the pavement across the street. He lowers his window and she asks what he’s doing.

“I’ve been at a discotheque,” he says.

“Do you want to have some fun?”

“What kind of fun?”

She mentions two sex acts and inquires how much money he has.

“A hundred dollars,” he says.

She produces a badge and instructs him to pull over. The charge is soliciting a female police officer for prostitution and possession of marijuana. A month later, he is acquitted of all charges but the incident follows him like a shadow for years. And he can sense it in the room, now.

You are the sportswriter. You have reached the year X and have some questions about that night, and some discrepancies in his testimony you’d like to ask. Did it hurt his reputation? Did it damage him financially? How did he feel the night he was arrested? How does he feel about it now?

But can you ask them? Is it right? Is it fair?

Where do you draw the line?

You are the sportswriter. You’re driving home on Tuesday evening listening to Off the Ball. Julie DiCario, a journalist with CBS, is on the line from Chicago, talking about Floyd Mayweather. She has also written about him:

“Floyd Mayweather hits women. He hits them viciously, repeatedly and in front of their children. Mayweather has been accused of or criminally charged with seven incidents involving five different women in recent years. He has been convicted of hitting women on three different occasions, the last of which resulted in a 90-day jail sentence.”

Julie is not happy. How has Mayweather escaped public scrutiny, she wonders. And why does he continue to be celebrated by the media? “It’s shameful,” Molloy concurs. “This guy is not being held to account!” You smile and marvel at their passion.

You used to sound like that.

There was a time, not so long ago, when you would have been in Vegas this week. It’s the first story you’ve looked for in the papers every day. Every night on Sky, they bombard you with cliché and ratchet up the hype . . .




“The fight of the century!”

But not a word about the man who hits women. Or the little Filipino who worships God but cheats on his wife.

Shouldn’t you be in Vegas holding them to account? Shouldn’t you at least subscribe? But that would also make you complicit. You are the sportswriter. This is your dilemma.

Where do you draw the line?

You are the sportswriter. You’ve travelled south from Dublin to a plush hotel in the country to interview a legend of Gaelic games. He pulls up a chair and we turn back the clock, exploring the things that made him great: place, family, desire, faith. It’s gone beautifully, the portrait is almost complete but there’s an issue you haven’t yet broached with him, a question you’ve been wrestling with for days.

He had accomplished so much in his life. He had the medals and the fame and the glory. How could he explain what had happened that day? What made him do what he did? A nothing competition, an ordinary game of golf that had brought misery on his house and exposed him as a cheat. Why? What did it say about his character?

You are the sportswriter. You’ve left the All-Ireland triumphs and are asking him about his hobbies and his life long love of golf. His club. The competitions he has played. He sees it coming. He knows where this is leading. There’s pain in his eyes but you have to ask the question. Isn’t it your job to ask the question?

Where do you draw the line?

You are the sportswriter. Things haven’t been great in the business for some time; sales are going down, jobs are being slashed; you’re earning half what you did six years ago. You toss and turn each night worrying about libel. But there’s nothing else you would rather do.

A letter arrives in the post this morning. Before email and Facetube and Twatter, you used to get them all the time, but it’s mostly bills now or threats from solicitors or the odd Mass card from a sweet-natured fan. This was different: no signature, no address, no reason to take it seriously except for the typed block capitals and the glaring bottom line:


The cheating bastards are X and Y but it’s obvious from the tone and content of the letter that you could be dealing with a whole alphabet here. And though you’ve had that before, and shouldered the challenge, with all the cuts and the slashing and the fat cats creaming the bonuses, you’re not sure any more.

You are the sportswriter. Your job is the pursuit of truth but what if your job is no longer valued? Do you show the letter to your editor? Or throw it in the bin?

Where do you draw the line?

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