Sunday 20 May 2018

Ewan MacKenna: I can't stand reading, hearing, talking and writing about Conor McGregor

Ewan MacKenna

I can't stand reading about Conor McGregor.

I can't stand hearing about Conor McGregor.

I can't stand talking about Conor McGregor.

I can't stand writing about Conor McGregor.

I'm tired of him, and this isn't some chicken-and-egg scenario about what came first, the above or the Dubliner making me feel the above. It's all on him. And yet here we are again, shacking up at the foot of the mountain with aching limbs, because sometimes matters reach a level of importance where you've got to go where you really don't want to go. When it comes to perhaps our second best-known sportsperson of today after Rory McIlroy, that's a hugely commonplace.

On Saturday night in Gdansk, at an event he wasn't even part of, we got another glance into the mind of McGregor. He was only in Poland to support his teammate Artem Lobov who was heavily defeated by Andre Fili, but on their way backstage McGregor chose to offer comfort to his friend by repeatedly telling him that the victor was "a faggot". If it didn't make a whole lot of news, that's part of the problem. So often does he not just tip-toe near the line, but powers across it, that there's the danger of normalising his output. Given his position and words, that shouldn't happen.

It's not about being outraged, looking to be offended, or a wave of political correctness washing over the smallest moments and making demands, for all of those happen way too much, taking away from when they are truly necessary. It's simply about doing the right thing and, if you fail to do that the first time, it's about making amends. Why is that so hard? And why is that so much to ask? In that sense he's the perfect sportsman for this era, a representation of much of modern society.

There's a theory out there that, when it comes to holding McGregor accountable, it's some sort of effort to get up onto the moral high ground. Only it's not. Instead it's that the promotion of such rhetoric means that those standing where basic decency used to be have seen the ground collapse from underneath them, and are left peering down. That's the true meaning of snowflake, that learnt term that is seemingly a shield from all moral arrows. Yet too many have thought a statement like "the bar can't go any lower" was some sort of a challenge and McGregor is very much one of those.

Before we go further consider his latest slur, what it means and, crucially, how it affects and who it affects. The insinuation was always that someone was less of a man because of their sexuality, thus it was derogatory and by extension homophobic. But they are just words, whereas this has consequences, as McGregor is regularly mimicked from the playground to barstools.

Indeed just this summer, the brother of his own coach spoke out when Floyd Mayweather used the term against McGregor. "I know Conor, and I know a homophobic remark like that would have upset him," said James Kavanagh. "I know trash talk sells tickets but there is no excuse to call anyone a faggot... Because young people do watch these things and take notice, I think celebrities do need to watch what they say, in fact they should try and push out the most positive message possible." Often an idealistic take, in this case it's basic.

More recently James sat beside John Kavanagh on The Late, Late Show and spoke about his own experiences. "I guess maybe the reason I wasn't ready to come out, maybe it's a bit different now, you'd just hear the 'F' word thrown about... I always associated being gay with this negative thing so I never came out."

It's not different today though because of the words coming from McGregor's mouth and because of the silence from him and many of the other stakeholders since. That's why this is important and why it's a lot more than some easy and lazy chance to hit out at the champ.

Still, we get justification. One such excuse when it comes to McGregor is his working-class background, as if others just don't understand where he came from. But many do and that's an insult to the working class for he doesn't represent them nor do his values, and don't presume the goal of every such person is to make as much money as possible and then to flaunt it as egotistically as possible while offending as many as possible in the name of making more.

It's true his words this time were meant for private consumption, but think of how you would look over at an adult in a pub roaring that in a private conversation. Besides, that it went public ought to have drawn McGregor out to say sorry. How many times have you heard him apologise? There has been no shortage of opportunities. That would suffice but he's a man that claims to own so much yet has never been able to own so many of his own actions.

Then again has he ever had to, as most of those around him don't hold him to account? The UFC for instance removed the video, pretending it didn't happen rather than addressing it, and have failed to comment even once since the weekend in order to set an example. As for those back here, we've been subjected to the usual insulation by some of his followers as they surround their man in bubble wrap. If he burnt down your house they'd tell you he's lowering your heating bills.

The notion that McGregor represents a new and confident generation of Irishness is interesting, but it's flawed to the point that the subject of his latest remarks was so easily able to see through the cheap mask. "There's no need to use words like that," said Fili. "You don't need to demean other people to make yourself seem bigger. Whenever you hear someone use that word or call someone a 'bitch', that makes you look so insecure."

But if McGregor is troubling in the singular, many of his fans are troubling in great numbers as they offer an insight into the thinking of modern Ireland.

It's not the one you see attached to them though, one where unlike previous sons and daughters they go out in the world with chins up and passports on show. There's nothing confident about following as sheep, about not being able to think for yourself, about not making up your own mind, about throwing your lot in with a famous person so that whatever they do becomes the new acceptable.

Imagine for a moment had an English soccer player been caught using the word faggot and how they'd react? McGregor however has tapped into what we associate more with red-faced BNP-style jingoism right here, under the guise of republicanism as if a tricolour makes it all okay. Something isn't wrong because of who said it though, but because of what was said. It's not complicated.

This latest incursion isn't a first nor has been this latest bleaching away of what he said by the many that deify him. When he called Russian-born German fighter Dennis Siver "a Nazi" we were told it was comedy gold. When he said he would kill every man, woman and child in a Brazilian favela that wasn't fit for work, we were told it was psychology. When he told a black man to "dance for me, boy", we were told that it's just an Irish turn of phrase. And now? The problem with social media is it gives a voice to those who should sometimes stay quiet and in recent days defences ranged from it being an informal Dublin put down to him actually saying "maggot".

Prominence and power always had perks, only they used to come with responsibility. McGregor isn't alone in an alt-right trait of shirking the latter part but that has affects on those most vulnerable. It's centre-of-the-universe syndrome and his sporting prowess and his popularity doesn't make it okay, if anything that makes it worse.

McGregor has twisted many norms and they haven't all been bad. We've seen a great rags to riches story, about how a guy that hated being a plumber's apprentice threw down his tools because he wanted something more and went out and got it.

But that needs to be part of the journey whereas he's seen it as the destination, and that's a great opportunity wasted. But there are other norms McGregor has twisted. For instance, when it comes to him, there's only one thing worse than not being talked about. It's being talked about.

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