Wednesday 13 December 2017

Being on all-gay team an act of quiet revolution

Some day 'safe haven' sides like Devils and Warriors will be throwback to a darker time

A star of the colleges game in American football, Michael Sam came out about being gay before the NFL draft
A star of the colleges game in American football, Michael Sam came out about being gay before the NFL draft

Ger Gilroy

It was an interesting week for 'Off the Ball'. For a change people were reporting on what happened on the show as opposed to us reporting on what happened on the field of play.

It's an unusual situation, not the first time it's happened, probably not the last, but anytime you become the focus of a story it's generally a sign that something bad has happened. This time, though, the furore about the comments made and subsequently retracted by Neil Francis may actually be a very good thing.

On a busy Monday night, instead of parsing the weekend's FA Cup action we listened as two lads chatted about their soccer and rugby teams and their experience of playing amateur sport with their mates.

Simon Murphy of the Emerald Warriors and Francis Fitzgibbon of the Dublin Devils chatted about the reasons they play sport, some barriers that had been put in their way, the sledging they face and the hurt they feel when careless stupid words are hurled at them.

They are both gay and the Warriors and Devils are gay teams. One of them is a colleague at Newstalk who I didn't know was gay until the item started.

I had been of the opinion last week that the fact Michael Sam is gay would ultimately prove just a minor footnote on his career and that it wouldn't matter when anyone with a brain thought about his time in the NFL.

I had also thought that our colleague's sexuality was not just an irrelevance but also none of my business – I never thought about it. Why the hell would I? But I was wrong on both counts. The intolerance that exists in Ireland is embedded deep in our culture.

Being part of an all-gay team is an act of quiet revolution. Hearing the lads be almost blasé about that beat the hell out of another 20 minutes on why Howard Webb is a mediocre referee.

On a usual Monday night when there hadn't been a media storm, we'd have covered the implications of the FA Cup, having talked about Michael Sam the previous week. Instead we wondered what it's like to be Irish and gay and not famous and to play sport.

We were all forced to confront the issue and think through our own views, reaffirm our belief that sexuality doesn't matter except to the people for whom it matters a great deal when they're not free to express it.

Their stories aren't just worth listening to on a wet Monday night but it's great to be reminded that life isn't a straightforward line for a lot of people who wonder how their team-mates and opponents think about them.

Sport should be a haven for all, a place we congregate to share exertions and dream of improving ourselves by a tiny fulfilling fraction. Any reminder of the power that sport has to bring us together can only be cherished. The journey can sometimes take us to difficult places but arrival is worth it.

The Dublin Devils and The Emerald Warriors exist as safe havens, some day they'll be anachronistic throwbacks to a darker time. Meanwhile we should be grateful for their courage.

Irish Independent

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