Rory and the Question of Membership

Rory Resents Olympics Forcing Him to Choose Alliance

When called upon to express ourselves in a nationalistic way, it turns out that most of us are like corporations, owned by a lot of people and collectives. It usually works out all right, because our locale, our region, and our national membership are in lock step with one another. I’m from Oregon, the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Those go together, but it wasn’t so easy for Rory McIlroy when the Olympics rolled around. They wanted to know who he’d be playing for, Team Ireland, or Team Great Britain. I suppose that we could lay the blame at the feet of Michael Collins for negotiating a deal that left out the upper nine countries of Ireland, in British hands. Divided Ireland is still a hotly debated topic.

Rory grew up in the north, which is technically British, but just try to tell the average Irishman that he’s actually British. In fact, try telling him that he is anything other than Irish, at your own peril. If he’s going to play as an Irishman, he would play for a divided country, and if he plays for Great Britain, he is, in a sense, a foreign player in his own country. As McIlroy points out, membership in anything was not easy growing up. He claims to feel neither strong waves of nationalism nor patriotism, because he was never allowed to. He adds that he would have felt uncomfortable with hearing either of the national anthems played from the podium, because he isn’t engaged with either one of them, or the corresponding flags. In fact, he claims not to know the words from either. That is a sad lack of membership born of a political situation that began long before he was born. In searching for his loyalties and a self-identity as a great player, McIlroy’s situation brings up additional questions of one’s “ownership.” To what degree is a celebrity performer “owned” by his surrounding collective, regardless of the political make-up, and to what degree is he owned by himself?

It is easier to deal with on a local or regional level. No Washington Husky is going to invite an Oregon Duck over to fill out the golf team for a weekend, but at a national level, it happens all the time. A number of Americans have appeared in the Olympics playing basketball for the teams of other nations, either because they have national, ethnic membership with that country, or because they just didn’t play well enough to make the American team. Western baseball players have played their sport all over the world, most notably Japan, and major league baseball in North America has teams in both Canadian and American cities – no problem, apparently.

The membership dilemma involving the Olympics is rough on self-ownership. We crow about the events represnting individual achievement, and then turn the medal count into an international arms race. That adds pressure to the performer, who risks being labeled with insufficient patriotism by merely winning a silver medal. And how is a sportsman supposed to know who he is in terms of his larger collective, if the collective doesn’t know its own identity? It is fitting that Rory chose Team Ireland, because whatever Great Britain wants to call the upper nine countries, he’s Irish. It left him off the podium, but I’ll wager he’d do it the same way next time. Britain’s Ireland troubles go back a long, long way, but being Irish is to the bone, one of the world’s strongest historical and cultural identities, along with Huskies versus Ducks, of course.

I’m not sure that Michael Collins played much golf, and sports alliances probably weren’t much on his mind when he sat down with the UK to broker an agreement. However, it surely didn’t help a lot of people who came after, with a foot in each country, and no true membership in either. Rory’s thoughts are easy to understand – I’d be resentful, too.
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