(First published in the Western People in September 2018)
How would you describe your typical modern-day sports fan?
They’re opinionated for a start. Opinions are the by-product of the echo chamber social media has culitvated – an environment enabling all to air their views before the widest of audiences.
Gone are the days, when asked of their opinion on the weekend’s game, the humble sports nut would point to the fact that they had yet to read Con Houlihan’s post-game ramblings.
But while modern sports fans are certainly more opinionated – nothing wrong with that – they can be prone to changing their minds. From feeling so passionate from one perspective in one instance, they can be found shuffling to join another viewpoint almost just as quickly.
Sports fans these days, as knowledable as they are on an expanding range of accessible sports, can be found jumping to conclusions, no matter what the topic, ad nauseam.
Like the polygraph needle assessing the pleas of a chocolated-faced toddler, adament of their innocence in the investigation to see who tampered with the freshly-baked mousse, sports fans’ opinions are eternally flip-flopping.
In fact that’s a little harsh – given the comparison can stretch as far as journalists on occasion, too. “One man’s remorse is another man’s reminesence” were the prudent words of Ogden Nash – excuse the schmaltz – though the words’ relevancy seem to fade with every passing day in today’s sporting spheres.
We are all guilty, at times, of sturggling to figure out whether we should be remorseful or reminiscent and as we rush to figure it out, we forget to, at least, make an attempt to gather all the facts. A quick stroll through a social media timeline would prove as much.
In the helter-skelter comings-and-goings of contemporary sporting discourse, there’s no time to manufancture opinions with all the facts at hand. Instead, we often rush to the side of the argument we have stumbled upon first, before defecting to the other side with the masses upon the emergence of further facts. Naturally, this can lead to a torrent of noise with substance intertwined sparingly somwehere in between.
Yet another volte-face is likely as a given story develops further while the substance retreats deeper into the dissying conflagration of – often – uninformed discussion.
The Mayo ladies saga is just a singular case in point. In contrast to a political debate where the public can align themselves to one side of a debate – however mind-numbing it may be – and argue their viewpoints, the ire of sports fans – and at times the Fourth Estate – can alter as the various parties take to the podium.
Many of us took umbrage at Peter Leahy a number of weeks ago, before quickly focusing the scope in the direction of the departed players once the manager emerged with his own take on events.
In hindsight, the logical approach would be listening to both sides of the argument before making informed decisions. Alas, we find ourselves regularly opting for a different approach.
It’s a trend which translates right across the majority of sporting stories or, at least, every story which has more than one perspective attached to it.
Yet what many – not all – arguing factions have failed to grasp is an understanding of today’s news cycle where the fight to control the narrative, enabling you to fit into Nash’s reminensce category and have a positive light shed on your corner, is as vicious and vigourous as ever.
In the same aforementioned county, the outgoing men’s manager Stephen Rochford stole the march on the county board, accumulating a swell of support in the process when leaving his position. There was no such outcries, to a certain degree, calling for the officials to give their account of the story which, in turn, insinuated their guilt. Nevertheless the outgoing manager continues to receive a deluge of support despite the fact that many of the jigsaw pieces remain missing.
The boom of social media, with the hive of hysteria it brings along with it, hasn’t exactly hindered such developments. Seen by some as an information hub where people can extract the news they desire, online discourse has become more reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello sketch. Everyone’s confidence in their own hasty views as facts inevitably just leads to confusion.
These past few months, which must eventually go down as one of the most scandal-strewn in recent memory for sport, have served as a timely reminder that tweets don’t equate to facts.
How many of us jumped to the defence of Serena Williams and everything she stands for after the US Open before reading a single article – or tweet for that matter – forced us to ride the tide to the opposite side?
Shame on Serena. No, shame on the umpire. Wait, what happened again?
And how many of us watched the events unfold before producing said opinion?
Of course disagreement is nothing to be frowned upon, but the rush to form an opinion is a trait becoming all too familiar since the advent of instant news.
But are fans and journalists and casual onlookers to blame for their trigger-happy approach to throwing out opinions? Well, of course they are. But sports stars can still escape the brunt of much of the confusion – not all – with a little more transparency.
Unfortunately for sports stars, a lack of privacy comes with the territory these days and they face an inconvenient predicament: share the facts or let the silence lead to assumptions which, more often than not, don’t favour the tight-lipped. While they are entitled to remain silent their taciturn approach will only draw more attention to something they, more than likely, wanted quenched.
The pitchforks were out for Declan Rice before we were all reminded of Roy Keane’s tendencies. Should we have joined the dots a little earlier? Perhaps the national team’s assistant manager had nothing to do with Rice withdrawing from the panel but should we have all jumped upon the shamrock-clad bandwagon deriding the young West Ham player so quick all the same? He has a carer to mind, after all, away from the looming pandemonium in the Irish camp.
We all agreed that what happened Sean Cavanagh was an disgrace by simply looking at his face. For all we knew at that particular moment, he simply slipped down the stairs. But the rush to form an opinion trumps all else – even facts. Perhaps our initial conjecturing of the Sean Cavanagh case will prove right; that’s not to say we struck lucky on this occasion.
We’ve got more wrong than we’ve got right.
Just as we learned upon our high-chairs, there is an onus on us, as the public, to hear both sides of a story, just as there is an onus on journalists to find it.
But with the temptation of social media and a medium for having our voice heard always at our fingertips, there is an onus on those in question to provide us with answers.
Of course, they’re not obliged to. Avoiding the furore, though, requires facts coming sooner rather than later.