Unsurprisingly, since then there has been no shortage of observers rushing to point out that the GAA itself maintains an apolitical stance in current affairs, which is hardly surprising in an organisation of such vast and diverse membership.
Equally unsurprising? The pressure that apolitical stance often faces.
Those with long memories can probably remember demonstrations at league games during the H Block hunger strikes which were avowedly political, to say the least.
More recently, the GAA’s relationship with current issues became headline news when, in March, referee David Gough wanted to wear a Gay Pride rainbow wristband while he officiated at Dublin versus Tyrone in Croke Park. Initially told he could wear the wristband, that permission was eventually withdrawn.
What to make, then, of the GPA’s stance?
The old mongoose himself, Archie Moore, said the man who is neutral stands for nothing. For this observer’s money it’s encouraging to see people, or a group, take a stand.
Whether you agree or you don’t, at least it shreds that old fig leaf of the unevolved, that politics has no place in sport.
This flummery has been with us for many years, despite all evidence to the contrary. Maintaining an airy ignorance of the issues of the day has long been the refuge of sports participants and supporters, and it’s encouraging to see even the seeds of change, as embodied by people and groups as diverse as Trevor Hogan (Palestine), the Waterford hurling team (cancer facilities for the southeast) and Cork City FC (the Vita Cortex workers) display their commitment openly.
If you’re rolling your eyes, making a V-sign with your fingers and mocking me by putting on your Neil from the Young Ones voice (man), consider this question of politics and sport: were you in the slightest bit uncomfortable with the lack of attention paid to Floyd Mayweather’s long history of domestic violence in the run-up to last Saturday?
According to the website Deadspin, Floyd Mayweather has had at least seven episodes of assault against five women that resulted in arrest or citations, a total which doesn’t cover what CNN described as “other episodes in which the police were called but no charges filed”.
Violence against women is a piercingly topical issue in these parts at the moment, what political observers like to call a hot-button issue. While I acknowledge that readers probably open this corner of the paper for relief from the dreariness of the quotidian, don’t detach yourself totally.
If you switch off your critical faculties there’s no guarantee you’ll turn them back on.
I tripped across an excellent piece by Brando Simeo Starkey for ESPN.com on bixing last week. Fair play to Starkey, it wasn’t Manny’s hook versus Floyd’s jab, but a good deal deeper.
Starkey’s thesis was that as racial progress advanced in America through the sixties, people’s options improved. Black Americans benefited when athletic scholarships became widely available in the sixties, for instance, and rather than enduring savage deprivation and years of poverty serving their trade as boxers, suddenly there was an alternative career path for brawny, kids with excellent hand and foot speed.
“When people ask me, ‘Where are all the American heavyweights?’” Larry Merchant of HBO told Starkey, “I tend to respond, ‘They’re all playing linebacker.’ There are thousands of them.”
Another broadcaster, Max Kellerman, agreed with Merchant: “I would argue that the heavyweight title is still contested on free television between Americans, but it’s contested on the blind side of the quarterback.”
The dilution of quality in boxing as a significant cohort of potential competitors disappear might seem a Freakonomics-type observation, the behavioural economics version of a comedian’s ‘ever notice how...‘ opening, but it’s a good deal more significant than that.
There are always deeper resonances which can be detected in sport if the focus is broadened.
This column doesn’t like to say ‘I told you so’ — well, not too often — but kudos to Tony Kelly, who popped up here a while back. Kelly is the Waterford man who wrote and starred in an online series, The Hurler, and we tipped him for greatness.
We weren’t alone. A couple of weeks ago he won the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series award at the Los Angeles WebFest 2015 at the Hilton Hotel Universal Studios, Hollywood. The biggest Waterford splash in Hollywood since Tyrone Power, originally of Kilmacthomas?
Congrats again and remember us when you’re a mogul, Tony.