If ever there was a word to make this column’s blood run cold, then it has to be ‘learnings’.
You can’t talk to a sportsperson these days without them spouting on about the ‘learnings’ they have taken from some defeat or setback or other. They’re all at it. Soccer players, rugby players, hurlers and Gaelic footballers. Jim Gavin’s All-Ireland champions are particularly notable transgressors. (We’re looking at YOU, Bernard Brogan!)
It used to be that the word ‘lessons’ sufficed but, like a worm chewing its way through the soil, learnings has wriggled its way into the collective vernacular. The first mention of it in any interview is never less than a dispiriting moment: anyone who uses the word ‘learnings’ simply isn’t going to have you ringing the editor with the word ‘exclusive!’ dangling from the tip of your tongue.
Just now saw this vid of Fury's dad calling me out! 😳😂😂 You gotta love these guys! https://t.co/aOQNOqxUBS— Lennox Lewis, CBE, CM (@LennoxLewis) December 1, 2015
(It’s not that the grammar police can take them to task for it, mind. The word has its origins in Middle English around the year 900 AD and is defined as ‘the act of process of acquiring knowledge or skill’, but it is such a mood-killer for journalists and has come to rank up there with old favourites of the genre such as ‘obviously’ and stock phrases along the lines of ‘a game of two halves’). Okay, so we have a lot to be worried about, right?
This isn’t an issue on a par with Syria, or even the struggles of the Irish rugby provinces, but every now and then, you get an athlete who is the antithesis of ‘learnings’ and we saw some very different examples of that this week with former Dublin reserve goalkeeper John Leonard, the Waterford hurler Maurice Shanahan and the new heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Tyson Fury.
Leonard was yesterday declared the inaugural winner of the Setanta Sports Book of the Year for Dub Sub Confidential, his searingly honest account of life as backup to Stephen Cluxton and his battles with alcoholism and drugs. It was no surprise when he admitted yesterday that his place on the Dublin panel wouldn’t have lasted long had he told his coaches such a story was in the works.
Still, his is an important story. So, too, Shanahan’s, whose brutally frank interview on WLR radio last Monday was an example of the good that can come when sportspeople reveal their innermost thoughts. His account of what has been a deeply traumatic battle with depression must be up there as the most important interview ever afforded by an Irish sports star.
And then there was Fury.
The 27-year-old’s defeat of Wladimir Klitschko at the ESPRIT Arena in Dusseldorf last Saturday saw him claim the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, but the monotonous manner of his victory over 12 rounds, and the lack of interest shown in the contest in most corners of the globe, demonstrated again just how far the previously mighty heavyweights, and boxing itself, have fallen.
Who can honestly say they bothered to shell out for the privilege of taking it in? Or made a beeline for the internet or the papers on Sunday morning with the expressed purpose of discovering the result? Fury’s win rescued the bout from ultimate oblivion, but it was his performances outside the ring rather than inside it which came to define this fight.
That’s because Tyson Fury doesn’t do ‘learnings’.
Here is a man who could give even Conor McGregor a run for his money with his mouth and there is undeniably some intelligence and wit about him. His observation last week that Klitschko is “like a bottle of water left standing on a table — he never changes” was one of the best deadpan deliveries you will hear from any public figure.
Fury is the archetypal ‘good story’ in media parlance. He was born premature, weighed one pound and barely survived. He boasts Traveller heritage, roots in Ireland and the UK and a father who boxed bare-knuckled, went by the name of ‘Gypsy’ John Fury and was jailed for a brutal assault on another man at a car auction.
Tyson Jnr has worn shorts proclaiming ‘Free Palestine’, advocated a British exit from the European Union while hinting at a run for parliament and he even turned up for one of the Klitschko pre-fight press conferences wearing a Batman suit and proceeded to engage in a mock fight with someone dressed up as the Joker.
Add in an ability to cut a colourful metaphor, and he should be gold to the media and a sport in desperate need of the oxygen of publicity, but he instead stands accused of serving to drag the name of the fight game deeper into the mud thanks to the infamous interview he gave to Oliver Holt in the Daily Mail early last month.
The boxer’s views on homosexuality, abortion and paedophilia were deeply disturbing, all the more so because they were mentioned in the one sentence, and his subsequent claim that he was misquoted were as hard to stomach as the video which showed him threatening the British writer with physical harm.
His promoter Mick Hennessy has echoed the ‘misquoted’ defence while adding that he would not be putting the clampers on his man’s public utterances.
Fury, he says, is merely saying what many people think and, distasteful though many of us will find some of those thoughts.
Still, it goes to show that there are times when the word ‘learnings’ isn’t all that bad after all.
: brendan. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Rackob