Belfast Telegraph

Why Rory McIlroy was right to speak out when vulgar verbal abuse became par for the course

No one should be harangued at work, whether millionaire golfer or bus driver

'The treatment of Rory McIlroy was a disgrace. Quite why being superlatively good at something means that members of 'the paying public' have a right to abuse, threaten and ridicule is beyond me'
'The treatment of Rory McIlroy was a disgrace. Quite why being superlatively good at something means that members of 'the paying public' have a right to abuse, threaten and ridicule is beyond me'
Gail Walker

By Gail Walker

When I wrote last week about Poldark's Aidan Turner rounding on fans who were disrupting filming of the Cornish potboiler, it was really with no more than a wry sense of the attention fame can bring to actors on the one hand and the mischief it can seem to license among the public on the other.

One wouldn't have imagined that the past weekend would have presented extreme verbal abuse, so sustained as to be almost classifiable as stalking, and on prime time TV to boot.

But this was no pitch invasion by football's Great Unwashed, or the slurring jeers and exposed hairy armpits of the massed ranks of darts fans at the Ally Pally. Oh no. This was the Ryder Cup.

Where we had all perhaps been embarrassed by Danny Willett's brother's - I know, a double Who He? there - comments in an article about the loutish behaviour of US golf fans, no one really expected that roundly-condemned piece to be practically prophetic when it came to the closing stages of what they bill as "golf's greatest rivalry".

The treatment of Rory McIlroy was a disgrace.

Quite why being superlatively good at something means that members of "the paying public" have a right to abuse, threaten and ridicule is beyond me.

Why should the Holywood champion be subject to crudities not suitable for printing in a newspaper? Or have his relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki brought up? Or be serenaded with people singing the old Neil Diamond chestnut Sweet Caroline - another reference to Wozniacki?

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So, well done to Rory for confronting an abuser on the eighth hole and having him ejected. True, some of his breast-beating and goading wasn't particularly dignified, but let's put it down to much justified retaliation.

I mean, this is golf. Not bareknuckle fighting. Or a metaphor for war.

It's about hitting a little ball into a little a tin cup, wearing outfits that justify a raid from the fashion police and having a G&T back in the clubhouse.

Of course, the Ryder Cup is prone to this sort of partisanship slipping into outright rudeness and open hostility. But we are increasingly witnessing sport descending into a bear-pit thuggery.

Football has been infected for decades. Look what happened to David Beckham, with filthy songs chanted about his wife Posh Spice. All good ribald fun? Hardly. Or Arsene Wenger facing 60,000 fans singing "Sit down you paedophile"? Or supporters taunting Man United fans with "the Munich song"?

Indeed, so prevalent is the venom that we barely notice such verbals. They make the front pages only when England fans go on the rampage in France.

But the bile is spreading.

It's a reflection of how we as a society are becoming angrier, ruder and malevolently aggressive. Maybe it's because we live in an age of spurious self-conferred rights. I feel something, therefore I am entitled to give vent to whatever poison seeps into my head. Lord help anyone who has the temerity to have a different point of view.

And the more trivial the event, the more intense the feeling. Many of us were surprised by the intensity of the Brexit debate and are stunned by the fear and loathing that is American politics, but when we consider it, we see greater oceans of anger and rage over sport, trivia and celebrity (if you want to see bile just mention Kim Kardashian in mixed company).

The "fan" culture is another fantasy in our society. Someone who has never crossed the threshold of Old Trafford can consider themselves in some way "involved" with Manchester United, though all they do is watch them play on TV.

Actually, they have no more "involvement" with that club than someone who has watched Corrie for 40 years can be said to be a cast member.

Yes, if you are a season ticket holder, own shares, or turn up and pay your way at the turnstile... but, other than that, you are nothing but a voyeur with no more involvement with that club than anyone with a remote control switching from Poirot to David Attenborough.

Why we even imagine that so-called "national" football teams involve people who neither watch them on TV nor go to matches in person is beyond me.

Again, it is some modern impoverished version of national identity that finds its expression in drink-soaked goonery abroad for males.

And it is always males, isn't it? Always swaggering wannabe blokes, here or abroad, looking to make superstars seem as small as they are, or lavishing them with inappropriate levels of adoration so they become creepy and unpleasant.

Maybe it's because we are so overwhelmed by the big picture of politics, economics, war and bureaucracy that we invest so much now in the small things. Maybe those are the only things we think we have any possible control over - and even then we know that, really, we don't have any at all.

I've paid for my ticket I can say whatever I damn well like. Cinema? Can't you see I'm on the phone! Queue? But I'm in a hurry. Control my kids? Who are you to criticise my parenting? I'm the customer and you are the servant, er, shop assistant. All the nastinesses, the over self-assertion, the low-level bullying isn't because life is more stressful. It's because people can get away with it.

The good civil people no longer know how to defend themselves - or even if they are allowed to. When public rudeness raises its head, our first instinct is to look the other way. Nervously. Or shuffle away from the unpleasantness. We doubt if our fellow citizens will back us up.

What happened to Rory McIlroy at the eighth encapsulated all our dilemmas. Many well-meaning people said he should ignore the jibes and get on with his game. It's just not worth it - to quote the old pub fracas cliche.

But sometimes it is worth it - if only in terms of self-respect. After being jostled along, he doubled back and confronted the vile heckler.

He did that rare thing - the right thing.

No one should have to take personal abuse while at work.

Not a Translink conductor, nor a millionaire superstar.

It might even be sinking to their level, but sometimes, wouldn't it be refreshing if one of the stars on the big screen really did just walk right out of the picture and plant one on the nose of the most obnoxious offensive cinema-goer mooning in the front row?

I dunno about you, but I'd cheer.

Belfast Telegraph


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