GAA must play its part in tackling racism, says Jason Sherlock
All-Ireland winner calls on GAA to explore new ways to make clubs more inclusive
Jason Sherlock: ‘I remember every kind of situation where I was slagged, be it by a player, a crowd, a manager, and that doesn’t leave you.’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Speaking during a discussion around racism in the GAA on RTÉ’s The Sunday Game on Sunday night, the 1995 All-Ireland winner also highlighted his recent experiences with the Dublin football management team, and the importance they placed on respect and empathy.
“It’s something you can’t really gauge, there’s no real marks for it, or barometer,” said Sherlock, when asked what extent he believed racism was an issue for the GAA. “There is a lot of rhetoric out there in terms of racism, and I remember every kind of situation where I was slagged, be it by a player, a crowd, a manager, and that doesn’t leave you. You still remember, and you still harness all the self-doubt, all the anger, all the frustration, and all the emotion that goes with a situation like that.
When the colour of your skin singles you out, you look for acceptance, and for a lot of people it’s through sport
“Part of this conversation about racism is understanding, on both parties. Understanding if you are on the receiving end of racism, but also understanding if you are potentially curious, or vindictive, or you ask questions of people because of the colour of their skin . . . If can understand the impact that might make, maybe that might change the behaviour of certain people.”
For Sherlock, whose father was born in Hong Kong, his playing career with Dublin ultimately helped his integration, and all sport can continue to do that.
“When the colour of your skin singles you out, you look for that acceptance, and for a lot of people it’s through sport.
“We can be critical of the GAA in a lot of ways, but I like to bring it back to each individual, to look at themselves, to see what impact that they can have, and can they challenge themselves in terms of their own bias, whether that’s conscious or unconscious.
“If I was talking to you in terms of a coach, we now talk about the components of making a great player, technical, tactical, physical and psychological. How much time do we spend on the psychological point? In terms of empowering, giving confidence to our young boys and girls, showing them what’s right and wrong.
The minute I walked into the school I was automatically welcomed into the GAA club too
“Like the traits we used with Dublin over the last number of years, they started with care, started with respect, started with empathy. All traits, no matter what kind of skill that you have, that we can impart, and we can also give to our kids going forward. Little things like that, challenging what we do, challenging whether we’re just non-racist, or can we be anti-racist, and can we actively go and do something to help young boys and girls who might need it because of the colour of their skin.”
Westmeath inter-county footballer Boidu Sayeh, born in Liberia and adopted by his Irish relatives at age eight, also praised the GAA for helping his integration in his home town of Moate, Co Westmeath.
“Her [his aunt’s] side of the family, my grandfather Tony played for Fermanagh,” he said, “and my cousin Dillon played for the local club as well, so they were huge influences on me joining the GAA, having the passion for it in that sense as well.
“I was instantly welcomed into the school, and the school is a big part of GAA in that area as well. All the kids played GAA, so the minute I walked into the school I was automatically welcomed into the GAA club too. It was easier for me to start playing the sport, and get along with people there, with family and friends there as well.”
Still, Sherlock reckoned the GAA can do more.
“What we’re here for is to look at the solutions for what we can do, can we look at what we do in our summer camps with our kids, can we look at how inclusive our clubs are for people who wouldn’t traditionally go into GAA clubs. And from a moderation point of view, and I know there is experience with referees, they’re still not sure what’s right and wrong.
“But people attending games, we know the GAA is a passionate kind of game, and we don’t want to take that out, but at the same time are there comments made at matches that shouldn’t be made? And do we do anything about that? Again, I think we have great games, but I think it’s important we ensure we continue to have a diverse and inclusive GAA community going forward.”