I little thought I’d find myself defending Tyson Fury.
Until a few weeks ago I’d never heard of him. But since he won the world heavyweight boxing title and then started opening his mouth in public it’s been hard to avoid him! I don’t know very much about him. I’ve heard much of what he’s said. I’ve read what’s been reported on the BBC. I’m willing to accept that much of what has been said by him is accurate reporting. But I’m also not naïve. And I’ve not been there. And context is everything.
It’s worth saying that I have no idea how I’d fair if a live microphone was put in front of my mouth and I was subjected to the media circus that has accompanied his every move for a week or two. Which of us would then feel confident about saying something sensible in the current climate about God, Jesus and the Bible? And then handling any awkward follow up questions without getting ourselves in a pickle after a few sentences? I’ll accept that some of the problems have been self-inflicted. And given that he’s a heavy weight boxer the attention is probably not unwanted. But though we may not like what Tyson has said or the way in which he’s said it I suspect we ought to cut him a little bit of slack. And allow for the fact that everyone has a bad day at the office. And then tries to justify the bad day at the office. However, you’ll be relieved to hear, there’s much more to be said.
As many of you may already know, I’m a massive fan of Sports Personality of the Year, hereafter SPOTY. It’s on tonight. It’s got its shortcomings for sure. But I still get a little misty eyed over the whole thing. I’m a sucker for the unsung hero award. But I’m nervous about how it’s going to go given the furore that’s surrounded Tyson’s nomination. It pains me that this has dragged SPOTY into an unfavourable limelight. It pains me almost as much as the BBC’s power point photo montages of sporting events covered by Sky for which the BBC has either been unable or unwilling to pay for the footage. But that’s a rant for another time. As a result of winning the world title, Tyson Fury has been selected as one of the twelve nominations for the inexactly, sometimes oxymoronically named ‘Sports Personality’ of the Year award. It’s been won by such luminaries as Sebastian Coe, Lewis Hamilton and Jessica Ennis-Hill, all of whom I’ve got time for. It was also won by Ryan Giggs who at the same time as he lovingly addressed his kids at home upon winning in 2009 knew that he’d taken out a gagging order was attempting to hide his identity as someone who’d cheated on their mother. If Tyson Fury wins, he won’t be the first winner who’s fallen short of the ‘role model’ moniker. They’re sportsmen and women. It’s worth remembering that they’re being feted for their sporting prowess not for their personal ethics.
As I mentioned, I’m nervous about what might happen on the night. I can’t see him winning this popularity contest, for that is what SPOTY has become. And I’m nervous what he’ll say and how he’ll be received.
I don’t know whether he’s a believer or not. He sure sounds like it. He seems clear on the gospel. But then there are his views on women and gays. And they’re not Christian. To say that a woman’s place is ‘in the kitchen and on her back’ sounds like something that Jim Davidson would say. At one point back in the 1980s we might have laughed. But it’s not allowed anymore. Not even in ‘mainstream’ comedy. His views aren’t great. And the way he’s expressed them haven’t been great. But the vitriolic response to him has been remarkable. There’s a sense now that I’m glad that he said what he said. I don’t agree with him. I find his views repugnant, especially so since he’s claiming misplaced biblical authority for them. But I’m adamant that I don’t want him or anyone censored. The subtle erosion of free speech is hugely damaging to a culture where tolerance used to mean that you politely put up with someone with a strong opinion with which you strongly disagreed.
I thought Gabby Logan got it about right when she said this,
This whole idea that we just shut people up, that’s not the way forward. I’d rather have the debate about why what he says, in my eyes, is wrong than tell him to shut up and go away. Because he’s not going to stop thinking or believing that, and he’s not going to stop spouting it, so why don’t we have a conversation about it?
What am I saying? I want to defend Tyson Fury. I don’t want to defend his indefensible views. I’ll happily defend his defensible views. I don’t like everything that he’s saying. I wish he wouldn’t claim that some of it is a Christian view. Because it’s not. And it confuses people. I think I’m saying well done him for being willing to express his personal views even if he knows they’re not likely to be applauded. But I want to defend his right to say this stuff, to not be muffled and then to be vilified for saying it. Because free speech cuts both ways.
On a related issue, do I think he should win SPOTY. No. But not because he’s expressed views that have irked most right-minded people. I don’t think he win because he’s not a sportsman. Boxing isn’t a sport. But then neither is triple jumping, cycling, gymnastics, running or swimming. They’re recreational activities. Done quickly. My own admittedly idiosyncratic view is that if it doesn’t involve a ball then no matter how competitive, athletic or skilful an activity it is it’s not sport. And so, to my mind it’s between Lucy Bronze, Andy Murray and Kevin Sinfield. And for my money it’s Sinfield all the way.
You may not agree with me. But I hope you’ll defend my right to say it.