Sinead Kissane: Sports stars took a risk but scored highly by sharing their views on this contentious issue
They're in a bubble, we're often told. They don't listen to outside noise, controversy or anything that's irrelevant to their job in the build-up to a big game, we're often reminded. Professional players generally don't say anything which might cause offence, bring pressure on themselves or cause a social media stir.
But this week wasn't like any other week.
A number of current Irish rugby players used social media to show which side of the referendum they supported in the build-up to yesterday's polling day. Peter O'Mahony posted a picture of himself holding a Yes badge, with the line: "I'll be voting Yes on Friday." Ian Madigan returned home to Dublin from Bristol to cast his vote and said on Twitter: "I'm coming #hometovote as the women of Ireland deserve better."
Two Leinster players didn't allow today's Pro14 final to stop them from voicing their opinions. Devin Toner put up a picture on his social media account of him with a Yes badge, saying: "I'm voting yes on Friday to give the women of Ireland the right to choose #TogetherForYes." And Cian Healy tweeted: "As a man, adopted in Ireland 30 years ago where the 8th possibly protected me, I (and my family) are supporting the YES vote. We must make sure the women of Eire are protected and have a choice in their lives. #men4yes."
In general, sports people take a gamble if they willingly decide to get involved in any divisive issue as they can run the risk of alienating fans with a different viewpoint. If you strongly disagree with the opinion of a sports person, would you continue to support that player on the pitch if you didn't like their views as a person? Or would you be able to distinguish the art from the artist?
Just why would a player stick their head above the parapet, particularly in a referendum like this, considering its extremely sensitive and emotive nature? Especially when their viewpoint would never be publicly known unless they decided to publicly announce it themselves.
When sports people give an opinion it can carry a weight incomparable to any other group of people in society. Sport and music are ways of escaping real life. But singers and bands are not necessarily representative of a county, country or people in the same way sports people are. Players play for their country/club/province. Which is why the easy option for players would be to stay neutral, apolitical, disengaged on a public level when a debate like this referendum raged around us.
So, should players put themselves out there and give their opinion on an issue like the referendum? Should they give their stance knowing they carry a clout and influence very few people, including many politicians, have in our country? Should they risk possible antipathy and anger from some supporters and social media followers because they believe in a cause?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
This referendum involved everyone with a vote in the Republic of Ireland. This referendum involved all of us. Just like people have a right to keep their views on this matter private, people have a right to make their views on this issue public as well.
Very little in life exists in a vacuum, including sport. Sport is no longer just about what happens inside the white lines. Sport isn't just about tactics and team-talks. Sports people aren't one-dimensional - they don't exist to just show us what they can do on the pitch on the big day. It is increasingly extending to what players think and say, how they conduct themselves - including away from the pitch - and especially if they are in a job which represents a people, a province and a country. Seeing the public messages from some current rugby players saying they were voting Yes comes in an environment we are all aware of. It's only a few months since the Belfast rape trial with so much disgust and anger caused by the attitude towards women which came out in that trial.
So it is for many reasons that the messages of support from former and current rugby players in this referendum seemed even more striking. If you voted Yes, then seeing the Yes messages from the likes of O'Mahony, Madigan, Toner and Healy would have left a feeling of real pride because these players had the courage to say what they believe when they could just as easily have stayed quiet. If you voted Yes, you might have admired these men on the pitch, but knowing more about their beliefs and what they stand for would make you admire them even more.
Constituencies with the strongest Yes/No vote
The table below shows the top five constituencies with the strongest vote for or against repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Dublin Bay South 78.49% 21.51%
Dún Laoghaire 77.06% 22.94%
Dublin Fingal 76.96% 23.04%
Dublin Central 76.51% 23.49%
Dublin Rathdown 76.10% 23.90%
Donegal 48.13% 51.87%
These are men who receive a huge amount of support from the public and they decided to show public support in order to, as Toner said, give the women of Ireland the right to choose. Bravo.