Tide is turn­ing against the bul­lies

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - EA­MONN SWEENEY

ED­DIE JONES and Jose Mour­inho are both get­ting their come­up­pance at the mo­ment. That’s a very good thing. The more nails ham­mered in the cof­fin of the idea that be­ing a bully and an ass­hole is con­ducive to sport­ing suc­cess the bet­ter. We’re al­ways as­sured that Nice Guys Fin­ish Last. Re­ally? Ai­dan O’Brien, Wil­lie Mullins, Mick O’Dwyer, So­nia O’Sul­li­van, Joe Can­ning, Micheál Donoghue, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Roger Fed­erer, Katie Tay­lor, Joe Sch­midt and many more tell us oth­er­wise. Few the­o­ries are more eas­ily dis­proven. Yet the idea that the leg­endary base­ball man­ager Leo Durocher was ex­press­ing some kind of pro­found truth when he made the NGFL com­ment in 1946 per­sists.

Why? Maybe be­cause it serves as a kind of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the world’s bul­lies. There are plenty of them out there. In fact, we’re en­joy­ing a golden age of bul­ly­ing right now. From Simon Cow­ell to Alan Sugar, from Gor­don Ram­say to the Jeremy twins, Kyle and Clark­son, the cul­ture is full of peo­ple whose unique sell­ing propo­si­tion is their tal­ent for bul­ly­ing. What, after all, is Don­ald Trump but the Bully in Chief ?

The sig­na­ture TV im­age of the age is of some highly-paid ass­hole bel­low­ing at an un­for­tu­nate who hasn’t lived up to his ar­bi­trary stan­dards. Quite a lot of peo­ple like this stuff. They might not be bul­lies them­selves but they cheer on the bully like they’re ‘The Bird’ O’Don­nell telling ‘The Bull’ McCabe what a great man he is.

So when Ed­die Jones was den­i­grat­ing Eng­land’s op­po­si­tion, the cross-chan­nel pa­pers were full of ar­ti­cles about how this was just what the doc­tor or­dered. “Of more sub­stance than Jose Mour­inho ma­nip­u­la­tion or bait­ing is the fact that the Aus­tralian has em­barked on a strat­egy of en­cour­ag­ing his play­ers to have no fear of be­ing bullish about them­selves. There is to be no softly-softly ap­proach un­der Jones, tread­ing a del­i­cate line so as not to arouse sen­si­bil­i­ties,” gloated The Daily Tele­graph. Eng­land’s prob­lem is that they’re not ar­ro­gant enough? If lack of self-aware­ness was a rugby player, that one would be Jonah Lomu.

The same kind of def­er­ence has been ex­tended to Mour­inho. His tar­get­ing of ref­er­ees, his lu­di­crous per­sonal feuds with Wenger, with Guardi­ola, with Conte, his sin­gling out of play­ers for blame, the whole shoddy routine was jus­ti­fied as an es­sen­tial part of Jose’s magic win­ning for­mula.

I won­der. There used to be a mad idea that al­co­holism was in some way had a kind of sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship with great writ­ing. In re­al­ity heavy drink­ing ham­pered rather than helped most of the fa­mous nov­el­ists, po­ets and play­wrights prone to it. The booz­ing was part of their char­ac­ter rather than of their call­ing. Had they been bank of­fi­cials, brick­lay­ers or bus con­duc­tors they’d prob­a­bly have been al­co­holics too. The same goes for man­agers and bul­ly­ing. This is a ques­tion of per­son­al­ity rather than oc­cu­pa­tion.

One of the many joys of Ire­land’s vic­tory over Eng­land is that we all knew full well a home vic­tory would have re­sulted in a dif­fer­ent light be­ing cast upon Jones’s “scummy Ir­ish” com­ment. Em­bold­ened by suc­cess, our neigh­bours would have de­cided that the Pad­dies had been far too sen­si­tive and that it was pre­cisely good old Ed­die’s abra­sive non-PC style which had en­abled him to teach us a les­son at Twick­en­ham. Any­thing can be jus­ti­fied by vic­tory.

That’s why it’s so good to see things go­ing wrong for Jones and Mour­inho. Be­cause there is no greater blight on so­ci­ety than the bully. In schools, in homes and in work­places they make life mis­er­able for oth­ers, in some cases in­flict­ing scars which never fade and driv­ing their vic­tims to the brink of in­san­ity. Bul­ly­ing is a can­cer.

When bul­lies see some high-pro­file per­son­al­ity be­ing praised for the same kind of be­hav­iour, they feel val­i­dated. Ev­ery vic­tory for the fa­mous bully is also a vic­tory for his in­fa­mous dis­ci­ples. “Do you see?,” they say. “That’s how you have to act with peo­ple. Let them know who’s boss. Put man­ners on them. Nice Guys Fin­ish Last.”

The tide may be turn­ing against the bully. The cur­rent cru­sade against sex­ual ha­rass­ment is on one level a fight­back against a par­tic­u­larly per­ni­cious form of bul­ly­ing. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment prob­a­bly has more to do with power than with sex. A char­ac­ter like Har­vey We­in­stein is the bully in ex­cel­sis, a kind of dis­tilled essence of bully. Yet be­fore his fall the tales of how he de­meaned and hu­mil­i­ated ev­ery­one who got in his way were a kind of ur­ban leg­end. There were peo­ple who thought he was a gas man.

Sim­i­larly, there was a le­gion of syco­phants who de­lighted for years in telling te­dious sto­ries about Char­lie Haughey, the punch­line al­ways be­ing how he’d told some­one to fuck off. There’s al­ways been a sneak­ing re­gard for the bully in this coun­try. It’s hardly sur­pris­ing. Past gen­er­a­tions were bul­lied by the priests from the pul­pit and by the Broth­ers in the schools. Crooked cops bul­lied con­fes­sions out of in­no­cent peo­ple and got away with it. It was, in the words of Seán Ó Faoláin, “A coun­try where the po­lice­man and the priest were in a per­pet­ual state of sat­is­fac­tion.”

We’re mov­ing away from that kind of thing now. But there are those who have a kind of nostal­gia for the harsher days of yore. What, after all, is the com­plaint about, “Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad,” but a plea to be al­lowed to con­tinue bul­ly­ing the kind of peo­ple who’ve al­ways been bul­lied in the past?

The sport­ing world can some­times be am­biva­lent about bul­ly­ing be­cause of a cer­tain sym­pa­thy for what can only be de­scribed as ma­cho non­sense. This is not to say that bul­ly­ing is a male-only pre­serve. My own ex­pe­ri­ence is that any men­tion of bul­ly­ing to a woman in­vari­ably leads to the re­sponse that girls can be just as bad in ways men don’t fully un­der­stand.

Still, there does seem to be a con­nec­tion be­tween machismo and bul­ly­ing. Too many club and county man­agers seem to think that they can get the best out of play­ers by im­i­tat­ing the drill in­struc­tor from Full Metal

Jacket. Yet the idea that con­trol freak­ery and in­tim­i­da­tion can be the ba­sis of ef­fec­tive man-man­age­ment seems a pretty du­bi­ous one. I sus­pect in many cases it serves the psy­cho­log­i­cal needs of the man­ager rather than the best in­ter­ests of the play­ers. Sport is not war and a team is not a pla­toon.

It’s a ven­er­a­ble cliché that bul­lies are se­cretly un­happy cow­ards. I’m not too sure about that. Those I’ve seen in ac­tion, and who hasn’t come across a bully at some stage, seem to be hav­ing a mighty time. A short story by the Amer­i­can writer Stan­ley Elkin, A Poet­ics for Bul­lies, deals with this and is prob­a­bly the most acute thing I’ve read about bul­ly­ing.

What does unite the mem­bers of the tribe is nar­cis­sism. You can see it in Mour­inho’s eter­nal will­ing­ness to crit­i­cise his play­ers in public. His first pri­or­ity, rather than work­ing to im­prove things, is to en­sure that when they go wrong he won’t be the one blamed. Con­trast that with Jur­gen Klopp, whose pe­ri­odic rocky spells at Liver­pool in­cluded some no­tably in­ad­e­quate in­di­vid­ual per­for­mances from a much less tal­ented squad than Mour­inho’s.

Yet Klopp worked through his prob­lems with­out ex­co­ri­at­ing his play­ers in the press. The re­sult is that he is now in a stronger po­si­tion than Mour­inho who may al­ready have em­barked on the endgame at Old Traf­ford.

One prob­lem in sell­ing out your play­ers in public is that they may re­cip­ro­cate. Hence the ef­fec­tive workto-rule which sealed Mour­inho’s fate in his sec­ond spell at Chelsea. A fa­nat­i­cal de­sire to put their bod­ies on the line for the man­ager is not par­tic­u­larly ob­vi­ous among the English rugby play­ers ei­ther.

The bully de­lights in per­suad­ing oth­ers to join in the per­se­cu­tion (for this rea­son, so­cial me­dia may be the bul­ly­ing medium par ex­cel­lence). Hence Jones re­gal­ing that wretched busi­ness con­fer­ence with lines about “the scummy Ir­ish”, and Wales be­ing “a lit­tle shit place”. These might not even be his per­sonal opin­ion but they were the ones he fig­ured would play well with his au­di­ence, unit­ing them and him in big­otry and de­ri­sion. What a bloody aw­ful way to carry on.

Nice guys never fin­ish last. Be­ing nice guys means they’re win­ning ev­ery day. But their op­po­site num­bers al­ways lose at life. In the end it’s the bully who gets the wooden spoon.

That’s why it’s so good to see things go­ing wrong for Jones

‘When Ed­die Jones was den­i­grat­ing Eng­land’s op­po­si­tion, the pa­pers were full of ar­ti­cles about how this was what the doc­tor or­dered. The same kind of def­er­ence has been ex­tended to Jose Mour­inho’

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