McIlroy should ignore the baying mob and continue to 'just do it'
“Go back to Ireland.”(Now you’re talking).
“I promise you that people responsible of his re-election have no clue who you are.” (Sir, I promise you they do. The Obama chess masters are mostly white and Ivy League and so they dig golf. And anyhow, the cat’s part of the Nike family by now. Everyone knows Nike.)
It went on and on, prompting the implacable McIlroy to acknowledge the harsh nature of the responses before posting the obvious question: “If he’s so bad, how was he re-elected #just askin”.
And off they went again. For McIlroy, it was a brief and valuable lesson of what happens when you make even the mildest political statement. Michael Jordan, the first, last and only Nike god, has remained steadfastly apolitical and moderate for his entire public life. McIlroy himself has hardly put a foot wrong in navigating the complex issues of religion and identity that come with being from Northern Ireland.
But the Obama episode offered further proof to McIlroy of just how rapidly his international profile is changing. As the rising star of golf, McIlroy seemed to have perfected the balance of blooming as one of the most marketable sports stars in the game while maintaining a semblance of normality in his life, going along to Ravenhill to watch rugby and heading out on the town in Belfast on a Friday night.
But his stunning rise to world number one has changed everything. His multi- million dollar sponsorship with Nike means he has joined an elite group of sports stars like LeBron James, whose audience and fan base is international. Over the past 20 years, sports stars have been schooled in what and what not to say to the mainstream media.
One of the most unusual elements of Twitter is that it creates the potential, at least, for direct, unfiltered communication between the stars and those who watch them from afar.
The abuse fired at McIlroy was in stark contrast to the fawning fandom he usually receives from his followers on Twitter. And the tone was clear: Shut up and entertain us with your wizardry at golf.
The reaction to McIlroy’s casual praise for Obama’s inauguration speech – surely the most widely televised event in the world that day – was telling: it has become so rare for sports stars to offer any opinion on politics, controversial or otherwise, that a mild expression of political interest provoked an outraged reaction.
The episode is already dimming – the world of Twitter is nothing if not ethereal. But it may prompt McIlroy to think twice about airing his opinions in public in future ... to be more guarded and mindful of his fan base at all times and so to remain so moderate that he offends nobody.
If that happens, it will be a shame. One of the best things about McIlroy is that he has always had a bit of an irreverent edge. If he feels like speaking his mind or giving his opinion he should follow the famous advice and ‘just do it’.