Sport Munster Rugby

Monday 17 June 2019

David Kelly: 'Conor Murray's right to privacy was always going to have harmful consequences'

 

Conor Murray: Scrum-half was sidelined with neck injury. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray: Scrum-half was sidelined with neck injury. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Mark Twain once said a lie could travel half-way around the world before the truth had time to put its boots on.

In an internet and social media-fulled age, it can do so in as much time as it took Muhammad Ali to turn off a light switch.

Murray: A victim of rumours. Photo: Sportsfile
Murray: A victim of rumours. Photo: Sportsfile

And when the internet is translated into a swarming, street-laden gossiping fury, the potential for a person to be disproportionately afflicted is multiplied.

Still more when those upon whom the aspersions are cast are possessed of such a high-profile as a sportsperson, entertainment star or a holder of public office.

We recall doing an interview with an injured Paul O'Connell some years back, shortly after the birth of his first child, when he spoke revealingly about the difficulties he had had recovering from an injury so intractable that even world-class surgeons were struggling to get a handle on it.

He was worried about the prognosis. Because there wasn't one. He was worried about the cause. Because there wasn't one.

He was worried about the time-frame for recovery. Because there wasn't one. He wanted answers. But there weren't any.

After the chat about being a father, the conversation that returned to the one about him being a - temporarily - restricted athlete was to become even more revealing.

Even in 2011, bushfires spread wounding words with dazzling speed. At the time, there had been a broader conversation about the propriety or otherwise in allowing the health of Brian Lenihan to become a national issue.

Suddenly, O'Connell found himself embroiled in a similar space.

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Public sightings prompted extreme medical bulletins. He'd lost two stone. His cheekbones were sunken.

Then the anonymous phone calls to journalists. Depression, we were told. Financial problems after a luckless property deal. Then it got really crazy. Imminent retirement. Cancer, even.

Like those who still believe the Great Wall of China can be seen from space, fiction became truth in the eyes of some because it was repeated so often.

O'Connell was able to shirk them off, laugh at some; such was his wont. He did, though, worry about the consequences of the unsolicited stuff which was off-loaded to his parents.

He has not been alone.

The issue has perhaps been displayed at its most venal form in this country in GAA terms for more than a generation, with everything from paedophilia to financial disgrace, sexuality to drug abuse attaching themselves like loosely-tossed limpets to players.

Those who cast the words bear no responsibility when their aim strikes. They can casually walk away, returning to the sanctuary of contented anonymity.

The targets are afforded no such relief.

That, for better or ill, is modern life and Conor Murray, like Paul O'Connell to a similar extent before him, has learned the hard way.

The consequences - a demand for privacy responded to by wildly defamatory allegations he referred to yesterday - of a determined wish to retain his injury profile as private information would have had predictable consequences even if there were no such thing as a newspaper.

The ancient rumour mill referred to by Twain would have transported probabilities and impossibilities to every bar stool and stadium terrace in the land so swiftly, the twain - and even the Twain - would not have been able to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Murray's burden is to live with the consequences of that initial decision, and now his attempt to address them, as well as the wider ripples that may envelop his provincial and national team.

It has been no PR master-stroke but the pity is that one was forced upon him.

Whatever one's opinion on the rights of a player to restrict his injury information - and it always seemed like a clumsy, clunky mechanism - the wisdom of an amateur or professional player deciding to do again may be re-visited.

Few, if asked, would willingly submit to mirroring Murray's experience, one suspects.

Irish Independent

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