Egan memoir offers up too much information

[caption id="attachment_68319" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Olympic boxer Kenny Egan. "]


Kenny Egan has always come across as one of the more likable Irish sportsmen of the moment. A working-class boy from Clondalkin in Dublin, he put in 18 years of honest toil and punched his way to an unlikely Olympic silver medal in Beijing before descending into a very public bout with alcoholism. Even then, it was especially admirable how he eventually reacted to his ill-fitting, new-found celebrity, came clean about the extent of his problem, and went off to take on the biggest fight of his life. Here is a real man you could tell your kids, somebody worth looking up to and cheering for.

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After watching Egan promote his newly-released autobiography on RTE’s “Saturday Night Show” last weekend, however, I struggled to find the right word for his performance that evening and the myriad revelations about the contents of the book. Aside from detailing his rise and fall inside and outside the ropes, and his battle with the booze, it also apparently contains plenty of salacious material. From womanizing to porn addiction, escort girls to videotaping threesomes, it’s all here. The publishers must be thrilled with the amount of tabloid headlines generated but forgive me for thinking he’s committed the crime of oversharing.

Oversharing is defined by as: “Providing more personal information than is absolutely necessary. Typically done when two or more people are conversing and details of one's sexual life creep into the discussion - or overly gross and disgusting details are included.” Is there a more accurate description of what Egan has done here?

Perhaps he should be cut some slack because this is the sporting culture we live in. So the cliché goes, we now seem to prefer our heroes to be exposed early and often for having feet of clay. Gone are the days when an athlete’s private life remained just that. In the era of too much information, nothing appears to be off-limits or unfit to print. When it comes to flogging books in an ultra-competitive Christmas market, the more prurient the material the more column inches (read free advertizing) will be generated. Everything personal, just business might be the mantra.

Does anybody else wish it was different? Is it old-fashioned and terribly twee to harken back to a time when it was enough for a sportsman to share their story and to spare us their bedroom habits. For Irishmen of a certain age, Mick O’Connell’s “A Kerry Footballer” and Liam Brady’s “So Far, So Good” were beloved memoirs by a pair of very different icons. What they had in common though was they dealt solely with the sporting lives of both men. All these decades later, I still know nothing about the sexual proclivities of O’Connell or Brady. And aren’t we all better off for that?

As a high-profile RTE pundit and a member of the Offaly hurling team of the 1990s (arguably the most interesting squad of that era), Michael Duignan will be competing with Egan on the bookshelves in the coming weeks. In “Life, Death and Hurling,” Duignan juxtaposes an account of his career with the tragic death of his wife Edel, his role as a single father of two boys, and his business travails as an auctioneer. Raw material for an epic tale there yet there’s also plenty of stuff in it about boozed-up bar fights. Whether or not the brawling was absolutely necessary for the narrative, it certainly fits the zeitgeist of putting everything in and leaving nothing out.

Almost four decades have passed since Eamon Dunphy’s “Only a Game” offered the first, authentic, warts and all account of life as a professional footballer in England. If he pulled the curtain back and gave us a discomfiting and tantalizing glimpse of our idols, the curtains and windows have since been taken down completely and removed. Our view is more or less unimpeded. Rare is the sports book that doesn’t come freighted with some sort of scandal designed to help sensationalize the extracts and accelerate sales.

Egan’s accounts of shenanigans are hugely entertaining, definitely titillating yet somehow unsavory. I know there’s a school of thought that argues we are better off realizing our heroes are mere mortals, capable of the same stupid mistakes and blessed with the same needs and wants as the rest of us. But I preferred when life was simpler. When we knew only what they did when they crossed the white lines to play or climbed through the ropes to fight. If Egan makes the Olympics next summer, will we now have to worry about porn sidelining his preparation?

The larger problem is we live in a society where reality television rules the airwaves and that sort of bare-all, share-all, “Jersey Shore” (That TV3 has just produced an Irish version of this show sums up the decline of the country!) mentality has spread like a virus through the culture. We don’t expect discretion when we are daily fed a diet of true and truly awful confession. From the Kardashians to the “X Factor,” no foible is too embarrassing to share with the reader or viewer. No character defect is worth concealing when the public appetite for such details appears to be insatiable. And worse, when sordid revelations are money-spinners which merely add to somebody’s fame rather than detract from it.

This Christmas, it would be uplifting to think of a generation of impressionable Irish boys and girls of a sporting bent unwrapping a gift containing Kenny Egan’s “My Story.” They’d thumb through the pages and learn valuable life lessons about how it took this guy nearly two decades of honest and unglamorous endeavor and sacrifice to make it to an Olympic final. A few of them would have their imaginations fired and might even be inspired to train that bit harder in their chosen sport in pursuit of achieving similar types of greatness down the road.

Of course, the problem now is the kids will have to get through all the dirty bits first.