Ongoing across the pond: the controversy over US footballers taking a knee during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality and racial inequality.
(Is there something a little off about the term ‘taking a knee’ as opposed to ‘kneeling’? Can it be that some of these sportspeople are taking a leaf from Napoleon’s book when he said a Bonaparte kneels only before God?)
Anyway, this protest is rumbling on. It began with one player, Colin Kaepernick, sitting for the pre-game anthem and it has become one of those issues that nobody involved in the sport can remain neutral on: hence the sight of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell rejecting President Donald Trump’s criticism of those kneeling, and last week we saw full teams kneeling, including owners such as Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, taking a knee.
Cynics have pointed out that some of those owners — contributors to Trump’s inauguration — may now be trying to boost league revenues, and it’s a persuasive point. True or not, this is something that isn’t going away, but rather is branching into other areas. Athletes in other US sports say they may follow suit.
It has, in short, been a bonanza for the parsing of peripherals.
All of which has put this observer in mind of last Sunday week, and the attendance of over 46,000 people at the All-Ireland ladies football finals in Croke Park, when Dublin won the showcase senior game, defeating Mayo.
It’s been well publicised since then that the game featured the highest attendance at a women’s sports event in Europe this year, a towering achievement and one the LGFA can be rightly proud of. I wonder what would have happened, though, if the Dublin and Mayo players took a knee before the national anthem in Croke Park?
The first question is an obvious one: Why would they do that?
One of the driving motivations behind the NFL protests, after all, has been racial inequality, and it hasn’t escaped anybody’s attention that much of the antipathy directed towards black American athletes who are protesting comes with a racial tinge.
How about gender inequality? What if the footballers a couple of weeks ago had decided to take a stand in support of the Repeal the Eighth campaign in Ireland?
How would those in the stands and watching at home have responded? With surprise at first, no doubt, but what would have happened as the motivation for the protest filtered out, which always happens eventually? It’s always tricky to combine politics with sport, not because they don’t belong together, but because of the long-standing escape hatch that ‘they don’t mix’, one of the most laughable propositions of all time.
Everything has political overtones. Obviously. The difficulty with the intersection of sport and politics is the danger of ascribing value to a sportsperson’s benediction that doesn’t exist in reality. In short, you admire an athlete for their reflexes, strength, attitude, skills, stamina — the entire sports package. Anything else is an added extra. If the individual is enlightened, humorous, responsible, moral, polite to children... that’s a bonus. Not mandatory at all.
Hence my own surprise any time a sportsperson shows an interest in matters outside their own orbit — true of those American athletes, and true of our indigenous sportspeople too.
But that’s not to say it’ll never happen. Keep an eye out.
Learn from the masters at HPX conference
Interesting to see the Sport Ireland Institute and Sport Ireland Coaching are running the HPX Conference next weekend with a focus on ‘Lessons Learned from High Performance Sport: The 2020 Evolution’.
Names like Joe Schmidt, Billy Walsh, Jim Gavin, Liam Sheedy, Olive Loughnane and Tanni Grey Thompson don’t need any introduction, but often at these types of conferences there are gems to be found in the presentations of the less famous.
I remember being at something similar a couple of years ago and a previous unknown gent explained how English soccer clubs evaluate players in... anyway, the point is that these events are worth investigating.
For more details, see here: www.instituteofsport.ie/hpx/
Boyhood tales from the city
We all saw the episode of Mad Men where Don Draper bamboozles executives from Kodak with a dazzling presentation, so everyone knows what nostalgia really means.
“In Greek nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’,” Don tells the visitors.
“It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
This exchange seemed apposite the last few days as your columnist has been reading Dave Hannigan’s Boy Wonder: Tales From The Sidelines Of An Irish Childhood.
Because the childhood is roughly contemporary with yours truly’s, and located in the same city, the identification is easy. Full disclosure: your columnist and Mr Hannigan formed part of the porous rearguard on a soccer team many years ago, though the venomous finger-pointing after yet another goal went in should safeguard against any accusations of log-rolling.
True, Dave grew up on the southern side of the river, a long way from the author’s hilltop perch, but that slight element of distance increases the level of identification.
The whole point about being a small child and getting to know what sport is and what it means is the universality. The hidden rules and legislation which seem to be common knowledge among those even 12 months older, the potential for scorching embarrassment, the heart-swelling achievements you felt sure were plain to be read on your forehead... those are markers of every child’s growth as distinctive as tree rings.
The longing for what’s gone is a perennial theme, of course — the happy highways where I went and cannot come again, as Housman put it. But huge credit goes to Dave Hannigan for isolating Housman’s land of lost content as Cork in the 1970s and early ’80s.
Which we all kind of suspected anyway.
Beara Cycle already a magnificent success
Respect due to a pal of this column, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan of Kenmare. The Ring of Beara Cycle organised by him and his mates is full for May 2018, though prospective participants can join a waiting list. Some going for an event only two years old: They raised €50,000 this year. Partners for the next cycle are Southwest Counselling Centre and Castletownbere Community Hospital.
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