Conor McGregor’s racism and bigotry need to be called out

Irish fighter is Donald Trump of sport as his jibes continue to go further than ‘trash talk’

Good on Conor McGregor, upholding the long-standing Irish tradition of – and talent for – grandstanding bigotry and casual racism in America. Wave that Tricolour with pride, boy.

Clearly, there is no line that McGregor won't cross in the relentless bombast and transatlantic huckstering of his August 26th showdown with Floyd Mayweather after which both will be vastly richer and one – the general assumption is McGregor – will have a busted nose and a bruised ego to nurse as they gear up for a rematch. There is no line that they won't cross because McGregor, at least, has decided that the line does not exist. All's fair. There are pay-per-views to sell and McGregor has left the senior boxer dumbfounded by the sheer energy and vitality of his pre-fight theatrics.

McGregor has also become the Donald Trump of sport. It seems as if he can say anything, no matter how offensive or just plain stupid. And nothing happens. There are no consequences.

This week, the Irish man, lost in a reverie of self-adulation on a stage in Los Angeles, urged Mayweather: “Dance for me, boy! Dance for me son! Dance for me!”


I'm comin' out here rappin' bleedin' Biggie. I'm givin' respect. I'm engaging with the culture

The moment drew some criticism but it has been curiously muted and the few accusations of racism which flew were energetically dismissed as ‘f***in’ ridiculous” by McGregor at his next promotional event in New York.

Later, when that show was over, in a relatively sane interview with the MMA channel, he professed his astonishment again that anyone could believe he holds racist views towards African-Americans.

“I mean, how could you say that: why look at me, for f**k’s sake. I’m comin’ out here rappin’ bleedin’ Biggie. I’m givin’ respect. I’m engaging with the culture – I put on Jay’s album . . . I’ve a big respect for the culture. All I listen to is rap.”

So if you’re Irish, come into the parlour.

Genuine eccentric

You don’t have spend too long watching McGregor to see that he’s a genuine eccentric who has been staggeringly successful in reimagining the world so that it’s tailor-made as his very own stage/cage and deluxe shopping mall. And true, from the word go he has been dressing like a man who had unlimited access to the wardrobe of Luther Vandross and much of his glittery flamboyance seems inspired from the standard rap video genre.

So maybe McGregor feels, on some level, like he has walked straight from that culture. He wouldn’t be the first white wannabe hijacker of rap and hip-hop culture. And maybe, too, he does on some level think that he is being sincere when he claims that he doesn’t even see race or colour.

But none of that matters. His bigotry is a national embarrassment now and if someone from the mainstream field sports or athletics or boxing spoke like McGregor of an opponent – of anyone – there would be an outcry and sponsors would walk. But McGregor doesn’t need sponsors and his mass appeal is based on being the all-conquering outsider answerable to nobody.

McGregor holds this weird role in Irish and international sports where he is both an underground cult hero/renegade and a leading player. He got there on his talent and courage and his capacity to shock and entertain the masses. And good luck to him on that front.

But it’s impossible to believe that someone as savvy and calculating as him has not, at the age of 29, absorbed the nuances of language in relation to black America. It just isn’t credible that McGregor didn’t realise what he was inferring when he issued that instruction to Mayweather, an African-American man, or that he didn’t understand the historical insult in referring to him as “boy”. True, McGregor was busy plotting his path to world domination in the years when Barack Obama ran for the presidency of the United States, which resulted in the most significant triumph for black America since the Civil War.

What I really want to do is to turn his favela into a Reebok sweatshop

And maybe he was just too busy “sleeping” dudes to notice how the rise of Donald Trump has re-ignited racial issues in recent years. Perhaps McGregor is ignorant of the shocking and shameful record of racism by the Irish towards black America. Maybe someone in his entourage should sit him down and have him read even a cursory account of the Irish role in the New York draft riots of 1863 or have him read/watch that scene in Ragtime when Chief Conklin stops Colehouse Walker in his fancy motor car.

Racially loaded taunts

Of course, McGregor has history when it comes to aiming racially loaded taunts and statements at his opponents. His threat to Brazil’s Jose Aldo that he would, in different times, “invade his favela on horseback and would kill anyone who wasn't fit to work” was weirdly and uncomfortably specific. You would almost think it had been thought out and rehearsed beforehand rather than just part of the spur-of-moment “wit” for which McGregor’s rhapsodic public appearances are often lauded. Or how about: “What I really want to do is to turn his favela into a Reebok sweatshop.”

McGregor’s rise has been extraordinary and sometimes entertaining and owes much to the persona he created; a contemporary version of the ultra-violent dandy just the right side of unhinged. The self-made man who, as he repeatedly tells the world, C.N.G.A.F. His fans are legion and the high theatre and comic-book menace of his pre-fight conferences, borrowed from the extensive library in boxing and wrestling, are hugely popular entertainment.

McGregor shares Muhammad Ali’s belief that the shows are just that: public theatre to sell the fight – and the comparisons between the two men end there. For decades, the mean and pointed insults that Ali directed at Joe Frazier poisoned their relationship. Ali was so loquacious and quick and light that his specific mean-spiritedness stood out among the hundreds of celebrated remarks and observations.

McGregor’s words go beyond mean-spiritedness. You only have to watch a minute or so of the dismal, charmless and limited verbal sparring between McGregor and Mayweather to learn that neither man exist on the same planet as Ali when it comes to pre-match publicity. Before they reached London they had already run out of ways to insult one another.

"Civilisation is crumbling," laments William Poole in Gangs of New York. Signs are he was right about that, but in the past few decades there has been an attempt to eradicate language deemed offensive to sex and race from public discourse. Conor McGregor, in singing of himself, too often flouts that convention in either the stupid misapprehension that he is merely flouting convention or in the cunning knowledge that his latest verbal atrocity will go viral and satiate his need to eat the world.

But racial insults aren’t just flouting convention. They are hurtful and they are dangerous and they are inflammatory, particularly in America where, almost overnight, McGregor has become Ireland’s best known public name and face. And McGregor is into his Irishness: it is a vital part of the persona and he has in the past spoken grandiosely of us all as “my people”. Whether McGregor is a unique confection of mythology and circumstance, filling a vacuum for the vast audience rendered bored and cynical by the corporate dulling of mainstream sport, or whether he is Ireland’s greatest sports person, is a debate that all sides can argue fiercely. What is incontestable is that he has taken the fight world by storm and stands almost alone now as a global sports persona who is unafraid to say whatever he wants.

That’s why he can’t be allowed to use his power and bombast to sling racial insults and then laugh it off as a bit of craic and as part of the fun.

That’s a bit Irish.