Monday 24 June 2019

Ewan MacKenna: Gilroy and Walsh made abhorrent comments - but why would anyone want them as role models to begin with?

Craig Gilroy (left) and Gary Walsh (right).
Craig Gilroy (left) and Gary Walsh (right).
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

Perhaps it's Tiger Woods that has best shown up the circle forced upon sport and its sportsmen. For it's those all around him, like leeches suckling on a vein, that often set the real tone and script.

Early on if the talent and results are there, they sell us heroes far beyond that talent and those results, as we are given someone to look up to on an all-encompassing level for that sells better.

Should the athlete let us down against some arbitrary moral guidebook that has little to do with their talent, gossip and scandal are there to pick up the tab and keep interest and therefore income flowing. And if such leeches are lucky, there'll be a mint to be made around a story of biblical and valuable redemption.

To quote Bill Hicks: "I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too. 'Oh, you know what Bill’s doing? He’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market. He’s very smart.' Oh man, I am not doing that, you f**king, evil scumbags. 'You know what Bill’s doing now? He’s going for the righteous indignation dollar. That’s a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We’ve done research, huge market. He’s doing a good thing.' Godammit, I’m not doing that, you scumbags! Quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every f**king thing on this planet."

But package normality and it'll sit on the shelf; only extremes of hyperbolic dreams and horror shift. As for us, we never question any of it. Look. Listen. Kneel. Pray at the altar of commercialism. We badly need reminding that one needs chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

Back in 2008, a US company called Demand Media bought the rights to, shackling itself to the great big lie rather than the reality a handful were rightly trying to reveal. Indeed for many of the years that followed, they kept on Lance Armstrong as their official spokesperson and, while he was gone by the time an article appeared under the headline ' Why Do Athletes Make Good Role Models?', the irony remained.

Laughter aside though, that piece raised some serious questions. The content delved shallowly into the usual rationale with reasons trotted out around confidence, work ethic and exercise. But the pressing issues were, as usual, avoided.

When did sportspeople become role models?

And why would anyone see them or want them as role models?

After all, if their nature is different to the rest, it's around alpha traits of selfishness and greed. And if the nurture is different, it leaves the question of who ought to surprise you less rather than more via poor behavior - rich superstars surrounded by money and yes men and minders, or a person in an amateur sport that says something stupid like 100s of others all the time? Take your pick.

Last year, talking with Ken Early on Second Captains, he made an impassioned plea about Neymar's betrayal of Barcelona and of elite players throughout history, as trading down clubs when starting off into a great career went against what sport was about.

It lacked ambition and loyalty and so much more. There was just one problem. Ambition can be financial and why exactly would a guy from the slums of a small Brazilian port city - whose first coach at his futsal team had to buy him shoes and give him money for lunch - care about what brand he played for as opposed to what brand paid him? We may not like it or him but what does he care? And why should he?

As his behavior has reportedly deteriorated, the same logic applies and that logic trickles way down. While a long way from the greats of games, in the last few days in the small sphere of Irish sport we've been shown this comes back to our knee-jerk outrage around bizarre standards we expect.

Gary Walsh was booted from the Laois team for their Division Four league final after tweeting: "Where's your ones name from the paddy Jackson trial. It's her that should be destroyed in the papers now, all ye feminists come at me I'll throw the kitchen sink at ya."

Luke Rossiter is being investigated by Drogheda United for his own social media post after the verdict in the Belfast rape trial that caused controversy.

As for Craig Gilroy, he has been suspended by Ulster after his name was put to a private message seen in the trial that read, "Any sluts fucked?".

Bad for whatever little business they drummed up, they are now good for clickbait as they've reached stage two. It's exactly why some no-name club GAA player will become a star in a headline around a wrong-doing. All the while media attaches itself to social media, aiming to gain attention under the guise of morality. Meanwhile once that light has been lazily focused, it's then that the sponsors come in and that's when it gets scrubbed and varnished and squeaky clean. But no kid heading down to kick ball or shoot hoops or throw a punch at their local ever dreamed of being a role model. It wasn't part of the contract but we have tried to slide it into the small print.

Of course there are more serious cases that need the looking glass drawn over them but this? Their views were abhorrent but who really cares and if you do, then why? Society is full of idiots spouting idiocy. And if in part our reaction comes about because of the false, surgically sanitised Kardashian-esque world of sport today that masks a flawed species, another part comes from the ground up.

As the west moves out of the church pews, it needs new deities. But remember a time when sporting talent was enough? What Páidi Ó Sé, Dinny Allen or Jimmy Keaveney, what Moss Keane or Willie Anderson, what Niall Quinn did when the final whistle blew might not have been all that savory at times, but they never hurt anyone and their stories were quite amusing so there was never a reason to turn on them. In fact, their human traits, in contrast to their otherworldly sporting skills, helped us relate to them and made them seem all the more remarkable.

That era has been pushed over though, more than people realise. The story goes for instance that just a few years ago Cristiano Ronaldo was seen to be showing too much sympathy for Palestine and so was pulled aside by Nike marketing executives as this was bad for business. They want to market an unobtainable perfection, just as we want to digest it, but it's the zero theorem where 100 per cent amounts to zero and where being everything is actually being nothing. Make a mortal a God and it won't end well.

Not only should we get to enjoy sportspeople's achievements and admire their talent, we should get to indulge in their human flaws. That's not allowed anymore though as stupid cannot be stupid, instead it has to be punished and dressed up as something else and sold. It's the bubble-wrap society and sport being a part of that.

For once, can we not think of the children?

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