ESPN longformer Wright Thompson returned earlier this week with a 5,000-word tome of a profile on alleged boxer Conor McGregor called “Crossing Crumlin Road.” McGregor’s hometown of Dublin and home neighborhood of Crumlin are rendered in evocative detail, and Thompson paints a portrait of Crumlin as a grim, gang-infested shithole to be escaped from at all costs. It’s effectively drawn, but the problem, according to Dubliners, is that parts of it seem to be bullshit.
Here is perhaps Thompson’s most gritty paragraph:
Dublin is best understood by exploring its many divisions, its unending physical and mental boundaries. The city, and its current champion, McGregor, are defined by those limits. It’s a clannish, parochial place. Crossing the wrong street has traditionally been reason enough for an ass-whipping. Men have had to drop dates off at bus stops instead of walking them all the way home. About 60 boxing clubs still dot the city, training kids to defend themselves and their block, each gym a world unto itself.
Jennifer O’Connell of the Irish Times critiqued Thompson’s work yesterday, writing that, as a former Crumlin resident, her neighborhood was never anything like the “Gaza Strip or 1920s Chicago” image rendered by Thompson. She admitted that Dublin had crime and gangs like any major city, but laughed at his grim portrayal of a city that eats its young. As she said, anyone who drops their date off at a bus stop only does so “because they’re too tight to call up a Hailo.” Several other Irish media members have also called out Thompson and ESPN for what O’Connell called “prose as purple as a three-day-old bruise.”
O’Connell also poked fun at Thompson’s insistence that the Irish media ignored McGregor because of his humble roots.
If only that were true. A search of irishtimes.com for “Conor McGregor” returns 42 pages of results. Conor McGregor is such a fixture of the mainstream media that my colleague Brian O’Connor recently referred to him as “click-catnip” and “headline herpes”.
This sort of convenient forgetfulness isn’t surprising—fawning profiles with simplified narratives and malleable facts have a long and inglorious history in American journalism. Reporters rushed to make former Floyd Mayweather foe Manny Pacquiao into a saint and now, two years later, it’s their turn to sprinkle the same pixie dust on MacGregor. The opponent has changed, but the role the sports press plays remains, largely, the same.