Tuesday 16 July 2019

Ewan MacKenna: Sport has given us a real window into the ugly soul of society

Conor McGregor and (inset) Cristiano Ronaldo
Conor McGregor and (inset) Cristiano Ronaldo
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

Leaving Las Vegas.

First thoughts upon exit, they are welcome to it as even by the standards of those that like to dip a toe into the unseemly side of humanity, this involves full-scale immersion from head to foot. A glance around reveals a two-part comprehension. So much of what's been created shows what we can do, and then you realise this is what we choose to create it for.

There was a sporting side to all of this grotesqueness naturally. There always is, although via scheduling and happenstance, the noise from this sphere has been disturbingly loud of late.

For instance, locally the Golden Knights returned to the NHL, still clinging to that Vegas Strong hashtag that has long been reduced to marketing intruding on mass murder. Everywhere you go, resort fees on your stay have been hiked, often doubling room costs, with locals saying it's down to paying for the Raiders new stadium. One more effect of the trickle-up osmosis of modern capitalism with everyone picking up the tab to jowly laughter from on high.

And then across recent weeks it was added to via what ought to have the big breaking story in world sport, only for it to be marginalised by what was the biggest sports story in town. Go figure. That was a microcosm of our priorities, and also of a wider malaise in society.

This is the home of the lawyers of Kathryn Mayorga who continue in their pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo over rape charges that go back nearly a decade. Whether you think there is guilt or innocence on the part of the Portuguese footballer, the inconsistencies at least should trouble you, as should the lack of coverage due to fame and fortune.

Instead though in 2018 we look to the likes of Nike and their response, as opposed to the facts to guide our moral compass, all the while reducing it to merely did-he-or-didn't-he gossip.

We've talked before about how so few showed interest, with the press fitting into a small room, but to contrast scale Conor McGregor took over. It seems easier to say the word outrageous about a dust up than about alleged sex crimes, even in a place where two women at a casino retort to the idea of Trump's morality with "lock her up". Not relevant, you tell them, they shout it out louder and louder, as if the tone of learnt phrases that saves engagement with their brains is by now an acceptable and winning counter in a debate.

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That's almost McGregor's entire marketing 'genius', as many like to put it.

How much we accept with a shrug in a reality TV era - making even the most serious issues only a short shuffle from the logical endpoint to this where there'll be odds on betting sites as to what the legal outcome will be - is frankly remarkable. Since the Ronaldo case details came out, the reaction by those next to and near the superstar have been both disturbing and predictable, the latter making it more disturbing in a vicious circle that always goes down. Way down.

Kathryn Mayorga's attorney, Leslie Mark Stovall, speaks during a press conference on October 3, 2018, in Las Vegas

"Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus," the club said. Neither satisfied nor finished, in a follow-up Tweet they added, "The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion." In essence they expected to and largely have gotten away with promotion of the notion that professionalism, dedication, and winning are not consistent with profiles of those who sexually assault.

Then came Ronaldo's new Las Vegas lawyer Peter Christiansen. "What happened was simply that Cristiano Ronaldo merely followed the advice of his advisors in order to put an end to the outrageous accusations made against him, in order precisely to avoid attempts, such as those we are now witnessing, to destroy a reputation built thanks to hard work, athletic ability and behavioral correction. Unfortunately, it is now involved in the type of litigation that is very common in the United States." In essence an attorney expected to and largely has gotten away with following the Juventus line.

This is not to say Ronaldo is guilty but neither club nor lawyer can know that he is innocent, although they can look at the documents and alleged discrepancies as claimed by Der Spiegel. However while we await so see what happens the man, in the meantime we can be repulsed by these methods.

Then again, the Portuguese is a celebrity and this is an awful time of deifying any and all degrees of rich and famous. That it co-exists with what Fintan O'Toole describes as an era of pre-fascism adds to its danger. We make excuses for them, find ways for them, wriggle paths out of cul-de-sacs for them, all based on who they are and never what they actually do.

Go on social media. Go glance at comment sections. Go see forums.

There you get a real window into the ugly soul of society as it's in such places people don't dilute their true colours.

Sex crimes are of course the most extreme example of the effect of this deifying but there's a trend and a thread running right from entertainment and politics and on into sport. McGregor's behaviour as an example was a case in point for, to see the circus, was to actually realise that a large part of that behaviour is on us. We were given a figure to mold and he is what we came up with.

Such is the echo chamber that he now exists in, his fans justify his acts and actions and he inspires theirs. Is it any wonder that after last Saturday's bad beating, the punch-ups started courtesy of his fans in the lobby and outside acting in the same ultra-aggressive manner, shouting the same types of insults, dressed in the same suits, oozing the same entitlement?

That's the key word here for it links so many in the sporting realm who do as they please.

That's not to say Khabib Nurmagomedov wasn't to blame too, there is plenty to go around. And as Dana White absolved himself of wrongdoing, nobody stood up and said that's not good enough. His is a promotion that took no action against McGregor and his team for criminal damage when they smashed up a bus in New York, instead instantly using it to make money with the footage of that becoming the centre of all UFC advertising. As with McGregor, the attitude is so long as you are making cash, all is justifiable. And once you make that profit, to call out wrong is to be seen as a form of jealousy and of begrudgery.

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Khabib Nurmagomedov is escorted out of the arena after defeating Conor McGregor

It's Fox News levels of engagement. And it's done openly and proudly by now. Thus, making these points can be like standing on the Salthill Prom and urinating into Storm Callum. The general reaction to such sentiments will yet again be that it's a very negative and speaking them suggests anger. Well yes, buddy. Right and right again.

The real question is where is your negativity and anger towards this scourge of justifying any and all based on celebrity? To quote Marilyn Manson who people were scared of and attacked due to looks amidst so much real horror taking place all around, "This is the culture you are raising your kids in, don't be surprised if it ends up blowing up in your face".

In real time too, as we stare on slack jawed, calling stuff a disgrace only because we are expected to long after the event.

Out from Vegas though it filters across the global landscape. Names. Profile. Attention. For what?

Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank live on CNN with journalists bemoaning a public turnout for a royal wedding and commenting on costumes. Dragons Den members thinking they can lead Ireland due to TV appearances, when we should focus on Pat Kenny's immortal line about Seán Gallagher as he said if he called himself an entrepreneur Stateside they'd quite literally laugh at him. Kanye West ranting and raving in the Oval Office as if his babbling nonsense had any meaning.

Actors. Singers. Sports stars. Who are these celebrities we take life lessons from and why?

It shouldn't need a Colin Kaepernick to make Americans aware of what's all around them. It does however for reality to be introduced without a person of such profile makes it almost irrelevant today.

A few weeks ago many asked how Ronaldinho and Lucas Moura could back Jair Bolsonaro, the man who will likely be Brazil's president by the end of the month given his policies make Donald Trump look somewhat socialist. After all, the former army strong man has said some black people ought to be in zoos, has told women across the senate floor they were too ugly to be raped, and said if his son was gay he'd rather he was dead. Obviously anyone's support of that is outrageous but ultimately who cares what a couple of footballers think.

It should not have the slightest influence but we allow it to. That they are recognisable names is enough for us to think they matter beyond their field. And they think they do, because it comes back to entitlement, and because we allow and grow this entitlement. Ultimately though, just because these people are selling, doesn't mean we have to be buying.

If you've ever seen the comedy Idiocracy, we are getting there. In it, a McGregor-style WWE star takes over a world where they can't so much as grow crops as the folks think Gatorade would surely work better than water. And if that part may be a little while off yet, the mouthy sports hero thinking he can do what he wants and wielding unwarranted influence isn't.

Never meet your heroes?

Better still, don't create entitled heroes like these.

Online Editors

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