MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: We do treat sportsmen as adults

Israel Folau

I see that Australian sportsman Israel Folau got himself in hot water over the last few weeks with remarks about gay people.

You know as well as I do that we file ‘sportsperson makes moronic intervention in real world’ in the ‘dog bites man’ category of novelty, so let me explain my interest.

Folau chose to expand on the background to his remarks — something about the Bible justifying them, which presumably comes near the passage justifying slavery — on the PlayersVoice website in Australia, a site that came into being in part, according to its own mission statement, because of “dissatisfaction with the negativity of coverage in some traditional media outlets”.

There are “no agendas” and “no beat-ups” on PlayersVoice; it looks like “no appropriate apostrophes” is another policy position, incidentally. Like, is it a player’s voice, or a lot of players speaking as one voice, in which case players’ voice(s) would be more...

Back to the matter at hand. Despite this vague “dissatisfaction”, when someone like Israel Folau says that homosexuals are condemned to hell, then the coverage is going to be negative. 

Whether that’s a pundit saying he or she disagrees with those comments, or reporting that teammates of Folau like Drew Mitchell, Clyde Rathbone, and Nic White disagree with those comments, there’ll be coverage which is not fawning or unquestioning. 

The reaction is not likely to focus on Folau’s sporting ability but question the appropriateness of his views in a modern, pluralist society. In other words, it’ll treat him like a grown-up.

This isn’t done with many sportsmen, who can be treated by the media as though they were enormous infants whose outsized calf muscles or vast wrists absolved them of having to proffer views or opinions on adult topics.

Gerard Piqué
Gerard Piqué

Sites like this Australian one don’t help. This one seems based in part at least on The Players’ Tribune, an American company set up by baseball star Derek Jeter now expanding into Europe and working with an investment company owned by Barcelona soccer player Gerard Piqué.

The purpose of these sites appears to be a matter of offering direct access to the thoughts of sportspeople, pure, unmediated and unfiltered — even if some of the thoughts expressed argue very strongly for the presence of industrial-level filtering. 

Still, nothing wrong with that. If your tastes run to contradictory meanderings strained through a colander of whataboutery cloaked in press-release lingo, fair enough. Each to his own.

But I’m afraid I can’t let the slap at ‘traditional media’ go unanswered. Perhaps being treated like toddlers has given many sportspeople an idyllic view of the modern world, one in which there are no grey areas or awkward contradictions, and maybe that blissful simplicity in itself is directly responsible for these player-voice foghorns.

It’s my sad duty to inform these folks that even in the toy department there are tricky issues. 

The representatives of the traditional media aren’t there to serve as games promotion officers for whatever sports they cover, but to give their customers the facts. Sometimes reporting those facts isn’t welcomed by everyone, but such is the price of adulthood. Eventually, the Dick and Jane books have to be put aside.

By the way, I hope no-one thinks PlayersVoice is simply exploiting interest in Folau’s earlier remarks by publishing his contribution to draw traffic to their site. 

Then again, they say themselves “no clickbait” on their site, so that couldn’t possibly be the case.

Gaelic Athletes advocating ‘No’ vote

Not entirely unrelated to my point elsewhere about the Players’ Boombox, or whatever name it’s called, is the presence, as of Saturday, of a group called Gaelic Athletes for Life which is

advocating a ‘no’ vote in the upcoming referendum.

What would a Players’ Trombone contribution about this look like? Very good question, because I have seen none and don’t expect to.

Better leave that to the pesky old traditional media, eh?

Up to last Saturday I’d only see Eamon McGee and Derval O’Rourke put their heads above the parapet regarding the referendum, but they were joined over the weekend by others: Joe Sheridan of Meath, Patrick Gallagher of Antrim, Aoife Cassidy of Derry, AnneMarie McDonagh of Galway and Mickey Harte of Tyrone, all of them Gaelic Athletes for Life.

McGee and O’Rourke advocated a ‘yes’ vote and the other five a ‘no’ vote.

Parking the fact that three of the five ‘no’ advocates are from a different jurisdiction, how appropriate is the use of Gaelic Athletes as a group title?

Is this group seeking to piggyback on the GAA’s name and suggest the organisation itself favours a ‘no’ vote?

The individuals named are identified as county representatives: we’re all aware of the GAA’s insistence on political neutrality, but is each county board also maintaining a neutral line when representatives are espousing one side rather than the other?

I find it heartening that the Dublin GAA club located nearest to the launch of this group, Ballyfermot De La Salle, distanced itself from them the same day of the launch.

Don’t bother complaining that this betrays my bias, my creeping motive to undermine your independence of thought, because I’ll give it to you here. I intend to vote yes.

If you disagree, fair enough. As long as you’re polite, I’ll be the same.

My fondness for Thatcher acolyte

No, I didn’t think that one of Margaret Thatcher’s wets would be one of those people that, as Martin Amis once said, once you read one of their books, you start to sigh, because you realise

you’re going to have to read all of their books.

Ferdinand Mount has a new one on the shelves, Prime Movers, and if it’s half as good as his memoir (Cold Cream) or Mind The Gap, then just do yourself a favour and pick it up.

He chooses twelve great thinkers and ruminates on them, and the rumination is the best part, erudite in the best sense. As in, entertaining, not showing off.

I still go back to English Voices all the time.

Mount plucked out William Johnson’s description of Lord Rosebery (“I would give you a piece of plate if you would get that lad to work; he is one of those who like the palm without the dust”), a line I would dearly love to shoehorn into a match report.

Roll on, Prime Movers.

The Brick is rock solid

Because I’m not all negativity, a quick word about a sportsman who impressed me all over again a couple of days ago.

In Waterford, over the weekend, I noted a ‘buy a brick’ initiative for the South East Palliative Care Unit in the grounds of University Hospital Waterford.

Unfortunately I missed the launch of this initiative, which was spearheaded by Michael Walsh of the Waterford hurlers, who is of course well known by his nickname: Brick.

Good to see a sportsperson giving something back.

Unsurprising to see it’s one of the Waterford hurlers.

For more information see www.waterfordhospice.ie/fundraising/buy-a-brick.


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