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TV Wrap: BT Sport make a holy show of themselves with Billy Vunipola comments

Meanwhile, Paul Merson serves up the best bit of telly all week.

Billy Vunipola celebrates after Saturday's win against Munster.
Billy Vunipola celebrates after Saturday's win against Munster.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“AFTER THE WEEK he’s had!”, roared the BT Sport commentator as Keyser Soze shook off his affected limp, lit a cigarette and loped off into the sunset.

“Sometimes it’s about family, it’s remembering who stuck by you through the difficult times”, crooned the presenter as Darth Vader lopped off Luke Skywalker’s hand.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him smile for a while”, added the commentator as Scar gleefully hissed “I killed Mufasa” before sending Simba hurtling toward a great fiery abyss.

These are notes from a new series, BT Sport Commentators React To Memorable Cultural Moments, inspired by the broadcaster’s actual descriptions of Billy Vunipola’s performance against Munster on Saturday afternoon.

A brief synopsis before we further continue our descent.

Israel Folau Instagrammed the Old Testament a fortnight ago, stating his belief that “hell awaits…drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters.”

Among those to like Folau’s post was Saracens’ Billy Vunipola, who then added his own post reading “Man was made for woman to procreate that was the goal no?”

He was then given a formal warning by Saracens and the RFU, and explained that he didn’t actually mean to hurt anyone in stating his religious beliefs.

So add Billy to the list of folk who still don’t understand that freedom of speech is as much a responsibility as it is a right.

Billy Vunipola is confronted by a Munster fan after the game Vunipola is confronted by a Munster fan at full-time. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In light of all of this, BT Sport then exhibited the worst elements of sports coverage in trying to transform his performance against Munster into a story of redemption; the classical tale of a man who responds to the outing of his latent homophobia by [checks notes] er, carrying the ball effectively through contact.

It was risible stuff; from the above quotes to Craig Doyle’s non-sequitur – “you may or may not like some things he has to say on social media, but the fact is that he is an absolutely brilliant rugby player!” – to Austin Healey’s nonsense – “He’s everything that’s good about Saracens.”

This column wrote last week of the ungainly sight of Tiger Woods being prodded into crying so as to satisfy television’s demand to configure his Masters triumph as the ultimate comeback narrative, but this was much worse.

BT Sport’s was a desperate attempt to thrust a comeback narrative onto something completely unrelated; an effort to turn a game of rugby into a moral tale which had at its heart a deeply questionable morality they did not properly address.

Sport is forever cursed by people who try to make it into something more than it is, and while that usually manifests itself as little more than hyperbole, this was just spectacularly wrong and ignorant of the many viewers who found Vunipola’s comments utterly alienating.

Vunipola’s actual comments were addressed by Gareth Thomas on Channel 4 the following day, who said that “as an openly gay man myself, I don’t feel kindness and love from him agreeing with someone that I should go to hell.”

Thomas’ comments serve as a reminder that sport is primarily about the broad range of people who play it, and it is they who make obvious narrative arcs of redemption or otherwise, not the forced storytelling of commentators, analysts, and journalists.

On Saturday afternoon, BT Sport felt the need to pick a hero…and then picked the wrong one.

Lest we know what we’re remembering 

English football is itself hurt by taking itself a bit too seriously sometimes, and never is this clearer than in November, when clubs festoon themselves with poppies ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

Among those to have partaken in the annual festival of solemnity and remembrance has been Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy, who posted in November 2016 a photo of he and the Wales squad observing Remembrance Sunday, accompanied by a ‘Lest we forget.’ 

Capture

Given the poppy symbolises the remembrance of all of Britain’s war dead since 1921, and the fact that Hennessy last week avoided a ban for an alleged Nazi salute by displaying before an FA panel a “lamentable degree of ignorance” about Adolf Hitler, fascism and the Nazi regime, it’s difficult to see how he might forget something he doesn’t know.

Still, it gave us the best bit of television of the week, as Paul Merson was asked by Jeff Stelling why Watford would appeal Troy Deeney’s three-match ban for a flailing elbow against Arsenal.

You might as well appeal it”, replied Merse.

“If that lad is going in saying he doesn’t know who Hitler is, then you’ve got every chance.

“He could’ve said ‘I’ve tickled him’. If he was in after him, he could have got away with that.”

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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