Saturday 21 April 2018

Joe and Marty: an ugly scene

The Sunday Game (RTE1)
America v FIFA (All channels)

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

One of the gifts of television is that it gives you a look at various cultures with which you may not be familiar. So when the Premier League winds down, it brings a few curious observers to The Sunday Game and the rest of the Gaelic games coverage - and always there is something strange and wonderful to see.

There was a match recently in which a goal was scored and the ball went through the side of the net, which presumably hadn't been nailed down properly, if at all. You wouldn't see that too often these days, in your sporting life.

And it was raining hard, so there were big drops of rain on the camera, making TV viewing conditions difficult - it's just a technical point, but have they not got cameras now that are anti-rain, that are self-cleaning or something?

The fighting, too, is excellent. You get into a kind of a rhythm whereby they're showing highlights of a game and you start to feel that something is missing - almost as an afterthought, they show you the bit of fighting, and then you're satisfied.

So in such a rich environment it seems strange that the great eruption of the moment is about something as common as the standards of TV punditry, how Joe Brolly said that the football played by Cavan was "as ugly as Marty Morrissey".

Clearly the joke here, if it played out naturally, was that Cavan were due an apology. And jokes are good. We need jokes, especially when we still have three weeks to wait for next season's Premier League fixtures to be announced.

But instead we saw the deeply unpleasant sight of this unique Gaelic culture being visited by the universal malaise that is corporate bullshit. Ryle Nugent, RTE's head of Sport, monstered Brolly for "his ill-conceived attempt at humour", which was "inappropriate and hurtful and had no place in any broadcast".

Warming to his theme, he added that Brolly "is fully cognisant of the fact that similar comments in any future broadcast cannot and will not be tolerated", and that Brolly had offered a heartfelt apology to Morrissey, which had been graciously accepted.

Now I know that Ryle had a situation on his hands here, but really we can get that type of thing anywhere, the "strongly worded statement". We long for a place in which a public man can actually say what he wants to say, in the way that he wants to say it, without having to unsay it with equal vehemence.

It seems that our culture used to be able to accommodate such things, perhaps because busy executives tended to devote more of their energies to doing things rather than undoing them. Since the invention of television, TV personalities have been making remarks which are offensive to other TV personalities, without the authorities feeling the need to intervene, to break it up - Eric Morecambe, when asked what he might have been if he hadn't been a comedian, replied "Mike and Bernie Winters".

Here Morecambe was denigrating the talent of other funnymen, which is surely more damaging than any opinion he might have about their physical appearance. Yet it stands there, in all its truth and its beauty.

Yes we long for that place, in which people can speak freely. Looks like we'll have to go to America to find it.


We know that our culture is essentially American, and yet from time to time something happens which reminds us that we have no idea what is going on there, or how they live.

The most intoxicating sight on TV last week was that of US Justice officials rattling off a hydra-headed indictment of certain FIFA blazers, charging them with racketeering, money-laundering and wire fraud, whatever that is.

America may be as massively corrupt as any other country, with so much more to be corrupt about, and yet on these rare occasions they seem to be suggesting that now and again the law actually applies to rich people too. Suggesting it quite aggressively too, even taking a kind of crude pleasure in it.

Which we find really shocking. Not as shocking, perhaps, as Joe Brolly calling Marty Morrissey ugly, but getting there.

Racketeering, wire we even have these words in our language?

Even to write them down seems offensive, and I apologise.

Sunday Independent

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