The front and back pages have been dominated this week by the revelation that Eamonn Fitzmaurice has “a box full of anonymous letters” that he received during his reign as manager of the Kerry senior football team.
The news has prompted several other prominent GAA figures to comment on their own experiences with hate mail, with fellow managers Anthony Daly, John Horan and John Kiely speaking to the media about all the angry letters that came through their door.
The public backlash has been vociferous and naturally I agree that no one deserves that kind of treatment, especially not a man like Eamonn Fitzmaurice who has been such a great servant to Kerry football. But the whole thing is being blown out of proportion in my opinion.
On Wednesday the Irish Examiner led with Kiely’s story on the front page of their sports section under the headline “Me too”. The Examiner’s sports coverage is generally excellent but I think that drawing comparisons between this particular episode and the #MeToo movement is a bit over the top, not to mention distasteful. (Incidentally, Kiely also revealed that he gets his wife to vet the letters so nothing too serious comes his way.) It’s reflective, however, of the widespread melodrama Hate Mailgate has induced.
It’s obviously unacceptable behaviour to send an anonymous, abusive letter to anyone. That goes without saying. I’ve no doubt that it wasn’t a nice experience for Eamonn and his wife, or anyone else who has had to deal with it down through the years. But I don’t see why anyone would feel the need to publicise the issue.
Let’s take Fitzmaurice’s situation as an example. He says he has a box of letters at home, all sent by Kerry fans and all hurtful presumably. What purpose does revealing that serve?
Firstly, think about the type of person who would take time out of their day to sit down, get a pen and paper, write an abusive, anonymous letter TO A FOOTBALL MANAGER, find out his home address, go to the post office, buy a stamp and put it in the letterbox. There would want to be something seriously wrong with you. It’s pathetic. Someone like that isn’t even worth considering, so why give them oxygen by going public with it?
The people who sent those letters are probably at home today delighted that they apparently “got to” Fitzmaurice. They might even feel like they contributed to his resignation. The expression “don’t feed the trolls” comes to mind.
Secondly, these letters are now being used as a stick to beat all Kerry supporters – most of whom aren’t absolute morons. Bryan Sheehan came out a couple of days ago to say that he and other players received similar mail over the years but he added that if you went back and looked at the handwriting, they were probably all coming from the same handful of people.
I have no doubt that it was the same sorry bunch who were harassing Fitzmaurice. You’re talking about a tiny minority of fans, but that hasn’t stopped countless journalists and ex-players from recalling with glee the time Páidí ó Sé referred to us as animals. Many of us criticise Kerry managers and even players when we feel as though they’re not performing but we don’t cross the line and get personal. I think Kerry fans have been unfairly branded by this story. The rest of the country – the media in particular – will be slow to forget about it.
And you might say, “it’s easy for you, you’re not the one getting the hate mail,” but, funnily enough, I have actually been on the receiving end of an abusive letter. It was hand-written and delivered to my home and the tone of it was extremely aggressive. I’ve broached a few controversial topics in these pages but this is Killarney so of course it was in relation to something I wrote in the sports section.
I was shocked initially but I quickly realised how sad it was. I chose not to go public with the details, primarily because I didn’t want to give whoever sent it the satisfaction, but also because I didn’t want to tarnish the good name of the club he or she was supposedly from.
Thankfully for me it was an isolated incident, and I do genuinely feel for people like Eamonn Fitzmaurice who have had to deal with it on an ongoing basis, but I think it’s best to just throw the letters in the bin and move on. The authors of this abuse don’t deserve our time.