Sport raises emotions and we all say things in the heat of the moment, but the impact that these comments can have away from the sweat and the adrenalin of the pitch has been brought into sharp focus this year in sport, and in the past week in particular in Irish sport.

The story of Mayo and the All Ireland is a long runner. It looked last week as though it might be put to an end with an overdue victory but the excellence of Tyrone on the day and the Mayo performance not matching the last 40 minutes of the semi-final win against Dublin meant that the wait goes on.

There was a sense of humour in some of the material that was being shared around on various social channels and in the chats taking place among friends from across county boundaries in advance. Most of it was harmless and part of the cut and thrust of understanding and loving sport in all its highs and lows.

On social media, it has become a creative art form. ‘Banter’ can be seen as requiring as much preparation, timing and delivery as a performance on the field of play.

Supposed Wit and Charmless Commentary

There are a number of media personalities who have become as well known for their supposed wit and occasional charmless commentary as any real insight or analysis, and some who can be capable of both but who let themselves down with the former.

We won’t name them but anyone who is aware of the social media world can insert their own particular thorn that you should have unfollowed ages ago right here.

It is not only those who have youth on their side and are trying to make a name for themselves. One commentator spoke of Mayo keeper Rob Hennelly “not being great with crosses, a bit like Dracula.”

It might have sounded OK in his mind when he was thinking it and maybe it would have been better if unfurled at a table among friends but in analysis that was going to be seen by the player and his family, it crossed a line.

It was one of many that did, enough to prompt Mayo County Chair Liam Moffatt to call it out last weekend and to be backed up this week by GAA President Larry McCarthy.

Speaking to he spoke of “What (US Sports broadcaster) Bob Costas calls, a corrosive assault on civility. That corrosive assault has been perpetuated recently by members of the ‘critics collective’ and by many people who term themselves supporters in their reaction to the All-Ireland football final.”

“The criticism emanating from these people has been overly harsh, unfair and, in some cases, downright cowardly. It has gone well beyond fair analysis of team performance.”

“Critical evaluation of match performance is fine, and expected, but overly harsh scrutiny of amateur players is unjustifiable. It is inexcusable when it moves beyond the realm of what happens on the field.”

Critics Collective

That ‘Critics Collective’ is a broad group made up of established media types, social media wannabe’s and from time to time, all of us. Which of us that maybe once played, or maybe never but has grown up in sport, has never once said something that could be heard by others as the ramblings of the proverbial ‘hurler on the ditch?’

And that is where this is most important. The fleeting moment of laughter or like for the perpetrator is gone in an instant. But for the person at whom the barb is aimed it sticks around for longer.

The standard wisdom is that you should never read the commentary that those who do not know will make. Never reading the judgement of others though is something that runs counter to the human spirit, and perhaps even more so to the spirit of someone who is willing to step up, to walk out on a pitch, to put themselves in the position of potential loss for the upside of potential victory.

So we do look, and we smile at the nice comments but by god do we mull over the negative ones. There is probably no mathematical calculation for the negative over the positive power of a comment but at a guess, I’d say that one bad one probably erases the joy of 100 good ones.

Victims of Vitriol

We have been the victim of vitriol in the past, notably when we had the temerity to try to bring Lance Armstrong to Dublin for a conversation about why he did what he did. People were interested but read it and moved on. Others were outraged and made their feelings known. Multiply the attacks by 1,000 which is probably the scale of the negative commentary felt by Aidan O’Shea and others and you get a sense from personal experience of what they are going through.

You say it is just rubbish, and most of it is, but odd ones will stick in your mind, and resurface to take the shine of what should be a happy moment in life, with family or friends. You can’t let the pain show because you are a warrior who has to take the pain of defeat in his or her stride but you are human first and it does hurt.

Nobody wants to ‘cancel’ those who have been too harsh. That would be a bad choice on top of a bad choice and we have to retain the right to be critical, in the important areas of life as well as in the ultimate brilliant irrelevance of sport.

But we each need to take stock of what we say and how that will be heard. Of what we type and how that will be hear. And we need to be civil. Because it is the right thing to do and the kind thing to people who are hurting more than we ever will know about something in which they came up short.

We’ll leave the final word to Larry McCarthy. “Nobody sets out to play badly, nobody sets out to lose an All-Ireland, but it happens. Supporters, who are members of GAA clubs, who attend club games, and who know the commitment and sacrifice the players make, understand this. Unfortunately, it is a point that seems to have escaped far too many people in the last week.”


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