Neil Francis, you’re not helping

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Neil Francis appeared on Off the Ball on Newstalk on Sunday along with Eugene McGee to talk about Joe Brolly’s column in the Irish Daily Mail on Sunday about Donal Óg Cusack, the retired Cork hurler who was the first GAA player to come out. Francis, winner of sports columnist of the year at the NNI awards last year, was asked about Michael Sam who aims to be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

I’ve transcribed some extended highlights from Francis’ appearance. I was going to use bold for emphasis but, yeesh, this page would be just in bold font if I did. Cheers to for posting the audio. My comments follow after the Francis quotes.

Neil Francis: “I was in the States and I was watching Missouri play before they got to the Cotton Bowl and I noticed this guy because he was very flamboyant, a bit of a showman, and a very good player.”

“What is the motivation for coming out? It’s acknowledged in the United States that there are plenty of homosexuals playing in a number of the sports…you do a survey of the hairdressing industry and find out how many heterosexuals work in that. Professional sport, by its very nature, doesn’t promote, there are a wide range of people who are homosexual, the environment that they are in doesn’t promote what they are interested in, you know what I’m saying.”

“How many homosexual men play professional sport? I would suspect that nowhere near 10 per cent, I would say a smaller margin of 1 per cent. If you look at that 10 per cent of the population that are gay…what are their interests? If you’ve ever sat down with, you know, homosexual people you ask them what their interests are, very often they have no interest in any kind of sport. That’s my experience from sitting down with them and I’ve done it on a regular basis.”

“Why is this news? When this came out, I was in the States when it came out, why is this such a big news story. The guy is a brilliant player and he’s very flamboyant and there’s no question, he’s also a self-publicist”

“I have an issue, I don’t know whether you followed this one, there was one with Aaron Rodgers the Green Bay quarterback. He had a partner who was his PA, who was living with him, there was huge issues and social media, and he came on to do a radio interview to dispell all the myths and it was the most unconvincing radio interview ever. Why did he not, if he is gay why, he is in his prime, why, and I talked about commercial aspects, sort of jersey sales, his value to the market, to television stations who might use him as a pundit, his value all across the commerical spectrum…I heard the interview and it was certainly the most unconvincing I’ve ever and, quite often you know I would say, I would suspect, gay sportsmen are quite reticent about coming out.”

“The rugby, in my experience…the rugby dressing room is a pretty homophobic environment.”

“The way I look at you know, after talking to them, they have very little interest in sport…I don’t have an interest in ballet.”

“I don’t think I’m generalising, I really don’t, I’m entitled to my opinion, and a lot people will say what I’ve said is stereotyping but I’m here I’m going to express my opinion because it’s what I think”

“I’ve switched off…I haven’t watched any of the winter Olympics because of the furore about the, to be honest I’m sick and tired of you know sort of picking up angles about whether the Russians have an anti-gay issue or not.

“It is surprising that in the United States of America, where there is a huge gay population, that it’s news worthy”

“Not openly, I know for a fact some of them are gay, they only do it after they retire. Whatever about the dressing room, 80,000 people…you’re going to get abuse from some idiots in the crowd and that can be a distraction.”

“I will follow this guy’s career, I didn’t see the draft so I don’t know who picked him…what I mean by flamboyant is he’s a real athlete and he will do very well in the NFL but when he makes his play he wasn’t shy about saying…there are some guys who just get on with the job but this guy celebrates the fact that he made a good play.”

Quality of sports analysis is rather important to this site, as next to entertainment journalists (who do a much harder and better job than they get credit for) no other section of the media has to fight harder to be taken seriously. So when the Irish print sports columnist of the year says something this stupid, it stings.

Francis was challenged several times by the presenter during the piece. Eugene McGee, the other guest, had one comment which was offensive asking why gay people have to tell people they are gay but it was Francis who dominated the 15 minute exchange.

There will be plenty said and written about why what he said was offensive and frankly that is more important than why its bad for sports analysis. It is however of some import, however little, that we discuss why this level of analysis is bad for the form.

Francis used the tired argument of being entitled to his opinion. That entitlement is not a shield of immunity. Yes, you can say what you want but if others disagree with you they are entitled to rip you a new one.

Opinion in any form, not just sports, is supposed to be informed. An argument, should be built around evidence. When you hold a pulpit like Francis, it behooves you to recognise that responsibility. You are not some wacko on the street whose guff spouting will go ignored by the masses. You are one of the faces of the form in Ireland. Your voice carries weight and with it the responsibility to think about your arguments, to craft them around solid points that you can back up. When you give your opinion, others will listen and they will respond.

My issue is not that I disagree with Neil Francis, it’s that what he’s saying is utterly baseless and ill-informed. I’m going to draw an analogy with a friend of mine and, now, co-worker Ewan MacKenna who writes the sports column in the Sunday Business Post. I’ve disagreed with MacKenna more times than I care to remember but he always, always, puts his whole ass into making an argument. If I ever take Ewan to task, I’d better come armed because the dude puts his work in to back up his point. You can be opinionated to the point of riling people up yet still make fundamentally sound arguments. That’s good journalism, that’s good column writing, and that’s why I can so freaking much about sports analysis. When I read over words like the quotes Francis made above, I’m not angry. Well, I was angry, but when I cooled off I was reminded of a quote from the film Primary Colors. Neil Francis, I am so fucking disappointed in you.

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5 Responses to “Neil Francis, you’re not helping”

  1. You can just picture a gay teammate of Neil Francis in days of yore, miserably suppressing a mixture of anger and revulsion as the alpha dog leered across the bar at anything of the female persuasion and denounced anyone who didn’t want to hit that. Of course, I may be wronging Franno who has always been a perfect gentleman to all women and never once made a comment that might make a gay person uncomfortable. But I’m entitled to my opinion, right?

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