Sport Other Rugby

Sunday 16 December 2018

Sinead Kissane: Private and public merge into one when it comes to our professional sport stars

8 March 2017; Craig Gilroy of Ireland during squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
8 March 2017; Craig Gilroy of Ireland during squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

On Easter Monday Drogheda United released a statement from Luke Rossiter about a public tweet the player posted on the day Ulster and Ireland players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were both acquitted of rape.

On Twitter, Rossiter said he was "delighted for Paddy Jackson" before describing the complainant in the case in a derogatory manner.

Five days later an apology was issued.

"May I start by saying how deeply sorry I am for the comment I made on social media," said Rossiter, who is not being considered for selection by Drogheda until an investigation is complete.

"The truth is, I don't really know why I did it as I have no reasoning behind it. It was a stupid and immature thing to do."

Last Tuesday, Ulster and Ireland rugby player Craig Gilroy posted a statement on social media about a private WhatsApp message which he sent to Olding in June 2016.

Ulster and Ireland rugby player Craig Gilroy. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ulster and Ireland rugby player Craig Gilroy. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The message, which was made public during the Belfast rape trial, stated: "Any s**** get f*****?"

"I would like to apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by the Whatsapp message I sent in June 2016.

"I would just like to clarify that it was sent privately, not part of any group chat," Gilroy said. "Regardless, my comment was totally inappropriate and is not an accurate reflection of my beliefs nor Ulster Rugby's values.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and in future will ensure the language I use in private or public better reflects who I am and what I stand for.

"I am deeply sorry for the hurt my comment has caused."

Ulster Rugby and the IRFU said Gilroy is subject to an internal review and was not available for selection for Ulster's game against Edinburgh last night.

Some of the reaction by individuals on social media to Gilroy's statement was that no apology was required - that he made the comment in private so there was nothing to be sorry for.

Why was Gilroy's WhatsApp message, irrespective of it being made in private, being defended in this manner by some?

In general, the categorisation of some people who play sport can lurch from superhuman to human because of the position they're held in.

Fans spend money and time going to support players; they wear their names on their backs, and some players have their status elevated like no other group of people in our society.

Certain people might see players as a reflection of who they are because they play in a team which represents them.

And, if a player makes a mistake, they can be defended by some with the 'don't we all make mistakes?' chorus line.

In the past, I have questioned why we automatically apply role-model status to sports people.

The reason they are generally admired is because of what they do on the pitch and not because of who they are or what they do off the pitch.

Shouldn't the reputation of being a 'role model' be earned in the same way they built their reputation on the pitch?

However, that's just not reality because the influence sports people have extends beyond how they play.

The gravitas attached to their status was something Padraig Harrington talked about in an interview with the Sunday Independent's Paul Kimmage last year.

"Because I have an ability to hit a little white golf ball I get this soapbox to stand on.

"But I don't have to use it, and I don't believe I should," he said.

"There are professors and educated people qualified to do that. They should be given the soapbox, not me. But the problem is that the sportsperson will be listened to.

"I don't believe my ability to hit a golf ball gives me a mandate to do it (talk about politics) publicly.

"I think it's wrong in society that we look to people who are not qualified to give opinions".

Rightly or wrongly, sports people are listened to and looked upon as role-models.

We might like to view them as being the same as everyone else but most of us don't have jobs which involve being supported by hundreds and thousands of people.

That privilege of representing a team and a people brings with it a responsibility, because their jobs would matter little if they didn't have fans there to support them.

It is essentially because of that support, which extends beyond their time on the pitch, which means what's acceptable in terms of their behaviour also extends to how they act, behave and talk in public and private.

To, in any way, excuse Gilroy's WhatsApp message on the basis that it was said in private loses sight of the degrading nature and tone of the content and the aforementioned responsibilities that come with representing a team.

To excuse it on the premise that it was private banter between team-mates is to make it a refuge for inexcusable language and miss the point that it is the casual use of derogatory comments which can create an atmosphere whereby that language is deemed acceptable and becomes normalised.

Public or private is not the issue here. It's the horrible content which has left the impact.

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