Tuesday 18 December 2018

Comment - No matter how many brutal beatings sport takes, try to keep your faith

UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor was filmed using a homophobic slur at the weekend
UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor was filmed using a homophobic slur at the weekend

Jack O'Toole

“Did you hear about Conor McGregor?”

“No. What did he do now?”

“He called some guy a f****t.”


“Yeah one of his teammates was fighting in Poland and the guy that beat him was repeatedly called a f****t by McGregor.”

“Didn’t he call someone a n****r a few months ago?”

“No, no, no, he was on stage at a promotional event with Floyd Mayweather and he said to him ‘dance for me boy’.”

“Oh right.”

“There was also the monkey reference too!” A third voice chimed in.

“The monkey reference?”

“Yeah do you remember when he was asked about one of the Rocky movies and he couldn’t remember which movie was which so he asked the reporter was that the one with all the dancing monkeys?”

“Oh yeah… Jesus… I suppose he does get hit in the head for a living. How much can you really expect?”

That was a conversation I overheard last week. An uncomfortable, unfortunate and confronting couple of minutes that touched on a range of issues, some that were very fair and some that were very unfair, but don’t let that transcript derail your faith in sport.

On Tuesday, disgraced former Irish Times sports journalist Tom Humphries was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the defilement of a teenage girl.

Judge Karen O’Connor said that the maximum sentence she could impose on the defilement charges was five years. The judge said that she believed that a four-year sentence would be a headline figure in this case, before mitigating factors were taken into account.

As part of Humphries’ guilty plea, The Sunday Times chief sports writer David Walsh and former Clare hurling coach Donal Og Cusack both wrote character references for the award winning sports writer.

During Humphries trial it was made clear that first contact with the victim was made while he was coaching and mentoring the girl and other members of an underage Camogie team. As hard as all of that is to stomach, don’t lose your faith in sport.

Irish Times sports journalist Johnny Watterson then wrote a 40 paragraph tribute piece on Tuesday that largely celebrated Humphries career as a sports writer, which was then widely ridiculed before it was edited, and then re-edited, before it was ultimately kept online. But don’t lose your faith in sport.

How about the nationwide sexual abuse scandal that rocked English football earlier this year, or the horrendous treatment of Eni Aluko that rocked English football earlier this month. Don’t lose faith in sport.

How about last week when the IRFU advertised a part-time head coaching role, under a full-time remit, on a six-month contract for the national women’s team, nearly two months after a disastrous home World Cup. Don’t lose faith in sport.

However, the rugby players didn’t have it half as bad as the 13 Irish football players who bravely appeared at SIPTU Headquarters in April to ask for the right to keep their own tracksuits, and to not have to change into those tracksuits in public toilets. Don’t lose faith in sport.

Do you remember when the NFL owners stood side-by-side with their players after they were called ‘sons of bitches’ by a US President last month, before they collectively made a u-turn when the tide of public opinion started to turn and their ratings started to dip. Don’t lose faith in sport.

How about when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback protested police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem before all 32 NFL teams found a reason, ‘football related’ or otherwise, to justify why he did not belong on any of their 53-man rosters. Don’t lose faith in sport.

Kaepernick led the 49ers to the 2012 Super Bowl and is still currently a free agent. The Miami Dolphins just signed a quarterback on Tuesday who has played one game in three years, completing two passes from five attempts. Don’t lose faith in sport.

I could go on and on and on, and then on again, and on again after that, but in short, from this year alone; there’s Neymar’s transfer. The IABA power struggle. The OCI mess. The League of Ireland betting scandal. The Brendan O’Sullivan failed drug test. Qatari human rights abuses. Lee Keegan’s GPS. Diarmuid Connolly’s suspension. Colm Cooper’s testimonial. Jim Gavin’s interviews. Davy Russell punching a horse.

Cork supporters waving the confederate flag just days after hundreds of white supremacists stormed Charlottesville, North Carolina, where Heather Heyer was tragically killed after she was ran down by a car. Tipperary goalkeeper Darren Gleeson taking €10,000 from an elderly man. Jonah Lomu’s kids being used as political pawns in the FFR’s Rugby World Cup bid. Manchester United and Barcelona both wearing shirts in tribute of injured teammates, while also wearing shirts or bands to commemorate victims of terror. Racist chants about Premier League strikers. All of the suspensions that the CCCC, CHC, CAC and DRA have butchered…. But don’t lose your faith in sport.

But what about this. What about the Dublin Ladies football team finally winning an All-Ireland on their fourth consecutive try? What about that final smashing the record for the highest attended women's sporting event of 2017?

What about James McClean’s match winner in Cardiff, or Joe Canning’s match winner in Croke Park? What about the hundreds of thousands of people that celebrated together during those moments?

What about Michael O’Donoghue handing the Liam MacCarthy Cup to his father Miko, or when Dublin footballer Paul Flynn kissed his fiancee Fiona Hudson after she won the All-Ireland?

What about Cork City winning the league eight years after their club was on the precipice of folding entirely?

What about when Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel played against Barcelona in his first game of football since surviving the LaMia Flight 2933 plane crash that killed 19 of his teammates, coaches and staff members last November? What about him receiving a standing ovation in a foreign country?

This week has been particularly difficult to digest as someone that follows and writes about sport, but this whole year hasn’t been great by any stretch of the imagination either.

There has been so many truly mortifying incidents related with sport that it really does make you question the how and the why?

Not only of the incidents themselves, but in the wider context, the question of how did we get here and why do we still persist with the gloves, the sticks and the balls, when there’s so much tragedy and ineptitude surrounding sport that it should easily derail our faith in the entire concept?

Sport takes a lot of beatings, and some of its bruises will heal while some of its nastier scars will never go away, and nor should they.

They should be worn with shame and they should never be forgotten and never have the opportunity to cut again.

But beneath it all, beneath all of the tragedy, the mistrust, the disgust and the exploitation, lies some semblance of beauty.

It's the only thing that keeps us watching and playing. The beauty in the eyes of an increasingly ugly looking beast.

Online Editors

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