Earlier this week he caused controversy in the wake of the England-Denmark Euros 2020 semi-final. In the closing minutes of the game the English forward Raheem Sterling took a fall which seemed to everybody upon rewinding, except VAR, not to have been the result of a foul. England were awarded a penalty which was converted. As a result they went on to join Italy in tonight's final. Seemingly incensed by perceived cheating, O’Byrne took to Facebook to post under a BBC article about the match. His choice of words were “Black Dives Matter.”
He later deleted his comment, stating publicly that:
My choice of words commenting on a penalty incident were not thought out. It was an error of judgment and I wholeheartedly apologise for the comments.
His words clearly were not thought out. Not because there was anything hateful or racially prejudiced about them, more a failure to anticipate the backlash that they were likely to provoke given his prominence in the world of sport where there is an organised effort to give racism the red card. He would have been better off saying "Dives matter" - which they do, and should no more belong to the sport than the racist rubbish sometimes howled from the stands.
Racism needs to be booted out of society and not just sport. Yet, when taking the knee, society should be very specific about what neck it wants to lean on: it should be used to crush racism rather than humour even when the latter is clumsily expressed. Too wide a brush, and the expression to tackle racism as distinct from the desire to eradicate it, becomes a tool to daub verboten across anything ruled offside by political correctness. Venting “profound disappointment and genuine fury” is just that – the sound of fury.
Amongst the first responders eager to stretcher O’Byrne off the pitch have been Basketball Ireland:
Inclusion and diversity is inherent within basketball in Ireland, it is part of the fabric of Basketball Ireland and the board want to reaffirm its commitment to both. Our clubs, players, coaches and volunteers throughout the country work so hard in their communities, embracing all, and this continues to be the case.
Sport Ireland places a strong emphasis on the promotion of diversity and inclusion at all levels, and in all areas of sport. Sport Ireland is unequivocal in its stance against discrimination of any kind and it is incumbent upon all involved in the sport sector to demonstrate that opportunities in sport are open to all.
Sports minister Jack Chambers, who is reported to have said that:
racism and xenophobia are totally unacceptable, and the comments fall short of the standards required from the CEO of a national governing body.
Objections to the Black Dives Matter utterance on the grounds that professional gravitas is expected from a sports CEO rather than personal levity, are fine. At least the target would have been hit. However, none of what O’Byrne said was aimed at undermining inclusiveness or endorsing discrimination, racism and xenophobia. He was not even jokingly suggesting that Sterling dived because he was black. It was a play on words, a turn of phrase. Had the Black Lives Matter movement or concept not existed then Black Dives Matter could certainly be viewed as racist. Dives Matter on its own would not have worked for him because it would have lost the BLM contextualised wit he sought to infuse his comment with.
Writers, often in search of a catchy phrase, will see this at play in a way that political correctness will not. That Black Dives Matter failed to work had nothing to do with racist content or intent, of which there seems no evidence. Arguably, it had more to do with the regime of hush that has emerged from cancel culture, no platforming, cultural relativism, inter alia. Had a white player taken the fall rather than Sterling, who is black, O’Byrne likely would have expressed his dismay, perhaps even in an equally cack-handed manner.
In an interview last year O’Byrne commented:
We saw the restart of the Premier League this week and it was very striking when the players took the knee. I would hope that everybody sincerely believes that but it was a very striking image.
There is absolutely nothing in his Black Dives Matter quip to indicate that he has resiled from that position of universal inclusivity.
If Bernard O’Byrne is guilty of racism or advocating exclusion then show him the red card. But don't play the black card gratuitously, to score a point rather than make one.
⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.