GAA need to move fast and hard against racist abuse
ON GAELIC GAMES:Jason Sherlock has been an interesting voice on the issue of racism within the GAA. As a teenage supernova he was an obvious target for those coarsened sensibilities that effortlessly devise ways of upsetting players on the field. He acknowledges he would be better able to deal with it now than he was back then, but that’s life.
For all the stories of what befell the Dublin forward in his senior career, one that sticks out concerns his playing days as a youngster in Ballyhea, Co Cork, where he used to stay with his uncle during summer holidays.
During one match, his uncle Eddie recounted in Green Fields by Tom Humphries, the 14-year-old Sherlock was being subject to niggling, racist verbal abuse. Unsurprisingly he became distracted and lost his temper, lashing out to the extent it was decided to get him off the field quickly.
His uncle, torn between anger and heartache at what was happening, recounted some years later with almost tangible remorse how in the heat of the moment he had smacked his nephew when he was leaving the field.
Sherlock sat on the line, crying uncontrollably, a child brought to this extreme of distress and isolation by being subjected to the most callous and cruel form of abuse.
“Verbals”, as it is euphemistically known, is a constant pollutant in sport, not just Gaelic games. The view that it is just part of the much-admired process of “getting an edge” is sometimes used to explain away the toxicity of using people’s personal circumstances to wound and provoke them on the field of play.
The question sometimes gets asked: why is racist abuse worse than all the other forms that poison Gaelic games – a selection of which includes jeering opponents because of troubled marriages, sexual orientation and alleged infidelities of girlfriends?
Sherlock addressed this question in yesterday’s Daily Star: “My late father was from Hong Kong and I understand that I look different to most Irish people. When I was growing up, Ireland wasn’t as multicultural and I suffered a lot more racism when I was younger.
“It is humiliating when it happens, as there’s nothing you can do about how you look or your background.”
You can argue there’s equally little anyone can do about having found themselves in personal or financial difficulties so what’s the difference?
The difference is that only on the playing field in the company of a certain type of “sportsman” will these problems be used against you. Otherwise people are largely sympathetic and would regard reference to such difficulties in public to be bad manners.
When it comes to racism, unfortunately, the world outside of the pitch will always emit signals, however low-frequency, that to be different is to be of less worth.