LARRY RYAN: Victims need to be heard too

Not too long ago, on a weekday morning, a woman rang the sports desk. The woman hadn’t been speaking long before it became evident her voice was shaking with anger.

This, in itself, wasn’t an unusual scenario. Listing the incorrect TV channel on a Manchester United preview has been known to produce a comparable reaction.

But this woman’s distress was more personal and didn’t, it turned out, relate to anything the newspaper had printed.

Rather, she was anticipating what it might print.

She had seen coverage of a well-known Irish sportsman across other media. Positive coverage, relating to a well-intentioned initiative.

But somebody close to the woman — maybe herself — had a different experience with the sportsman. A violent one.

She wanted to know if the paper would be “canonising” the sportsman too, when this other episode was on court record.

“Why is he protected just because he’s a hero?” she wanted to know.

“What about the victim?” she said over and over before she hung up, with more calls to make.

What about the victim?

A column of silence was tempting this week. A bleak, horrible, sad week.

Ronnie Delany’s grace lifted spirits, but even those reminiscences underlined what has been lost since the days when you could believe in every man or woman on the start line.

In another week, we might be scoffing at selfie culture and narcissism and the modern infatuation with documenting every mundane moment.

But this week, who wasn’t drawn to the selfies and videos of the doomed Chapecoense players? Now heartbreaking final mementos. All their loved ones have.

The smiles and joy and anticipation of their team’s finest hour now reminders that all you can do is try and cherish every mundane moment, whether you want to do it through a screen or not.

Yet, social media was soon ablaze with invented stories. Fake news. Paris Saint-Germain were said to have donated €40m, Cristiano Ronaldo €3m.

Chasing clicks, retweets, likes. Unthinking silliness, as much as malevolence.

But victims quickly forgotten, footnotes as the story swung back to the sport’s glamour names.

Meanwhile, the rot under the stinking lifting mat of English football is overpowering. And we wonder about the darkness beneath the surface of the institutions so many of us identify with.

But never mind us. What about those victims?

The work of Daniel Taylor in The Guardian, for telling the story of Andy Woodward which has triggered this disturbing tsunami of revelations, has given newspapers a reason to believe they still have some role in the world.

But where have they been until now?

The perpetrators of many of these offences against young footballers have long been known.

In some cases, they were convicted. Others threw up enough smoke to set off fire alarms.

So why were the ugly dots across the sport never joined?

Was it that glory and glamour and heroics proved too intoxicating to consider victims?

At home, on Newstalk’s Off The Ball, Ger Gilroy conducted a compelling interview with Cathal McCarron.

I always thought our own media had a reasonably healthy relationship with sportspeople, particularly amateurs.

Personal lives, a few exceptions aside, stay off limits, until a story is volunteered, often in a book.

There was a bizarre departure from that norm last weekend, when a GAA player found himself on a front page after a bit of messing on a night out. A story which only created a victim in the sportsman himself.

But, ordinarily, our media is much kinder than that. Too kind?

Omertà sometimes extends to criminal cases, which might go unreported, certainly in the sports pages, even if the offender is a high-profile figure.

Maybe that’s how it should be. One jury is enough. Although when an unpleasant back story is ignored and accounts of heroism on the field drift into hagiography and “canonisation”, it is easy to empathise with the anger of a victim.

Cathal McCarron is a tricky case. He certainly hasn’t been canonised anywhere. The story he has to tell about gambling addiction is relevant and might help other victims of that affliction.

He can be commended for honesty and bravery, as he has been widely.

But he has offered us a story with other victims. His.

In his tough questioning, Ger Gilroy remembered them and gave them a voice. And reminded us not every story should be told from the hero’s perspective.

As horror unfolds in the UK, victims have finally begun to phone for help.

As we wait for the phone to ring again, all we can do is hope our heroes haven’t blinded us to something terrible too.


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