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'GAA missed the boat' | Aaron Cunningham on racism response

Aaron Cunningham, the former Crossmaglen Rangers star who is currently based in New York, says th...

'GAA missed the boat' | Aaron...

'GAA missed the boat' | Aaron Cunningham on racism response

Aaron Cunningham, the former Crossmaglen Rangers star who is currently based in New York, says the GAA have "missed the boat" when it comes to speaking out against racism.

Cunningham, who was involved in the Armagh club's All-Ireland club successes in 2011 and 2012, has been vocal in speaking out for the 'Black Lives Matter' movement for some time.

He himself has experienced racial abuse here in Ireland, and joined Adrian and Eoin on OTB AM to discuss the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, and the resulting protests and riots across the United States.

"It's been very strange and quite surreal. When the Covid crisis hit nobody expected it to shut down as it has done, and then you have the background of everything else that adds to it.

"The momentum has just snowballed in a really great, powerful way. I remember initially when it broke, watching the [George Floyd] video, taking a few days to come to terms with what I'd actually just seen.

"You're now seeing a lot of people basically saying it's not good enough... it's a powerful thing that's happening right now."

Cunningham was racially abused during an Ulster club final against Down champions Kilcoo in December 2012 - after a complaint the Ulster Council banned one Kilcoo supporter for life and handed a four-month ban to Kilcoo player Aidan Branagan.

Cunningham says his experiences growing up taught him it was only right to not accept that treatment on the pitch, or indeed anywhere.

"My dad being half-black, he would have told me a lot of his experiences playing gaelic football with Armagh, and soccer with Portadown, about the racism he received.

"People throwing bananas down at him while he was playing, or receiving verbal abuse from supporters, he told me about it. It's something I couldn't get my head around.

"He basically said to me at a young age that he had taken enough of that abuse, that I didn't have to take it. If something was to happen that I should take a stand for it.

2 December 2012; Linesman Barry Cassidy intervenes in a confrontation between Darragh O'Hanlon, Kilcoo, and Aaron Cunningham, Crossmaglen Rangers, during the game. AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final, Crossmaglen Rangers, Armagh v Kilcoo, Down, Athletic Grounds, Armagh. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

"Circumstances fell into play in that Ulster final, even though [it was] in the middle of the game it was like something had to be done. That's coming eight years ago now, it seems like just yesterday.

"I still feel the GAA missed the boat a little bit in terms of their reaction to it. In five years' time you're going to look down the list of players playing inter-county football and they're going to have surnames from Eastern Europe, Africa, all around the world.

"I'm lucky enough to have represented New York in the Connacht championship and a very big part of their ethos is including everybody, everybody is equal because it is such a diverse city that we live in and we want everybody to play our game."

In terms of what specifically the GAA should do to increase action around the anti-racism movement, Aaron says teaching kids right from wrong when they are young is the only solution.

"It has to be education in schools, coordinated with GAA clubs and in schools. There should be some sort of diversity, inclusivity programme.

"Going forward we're going to have a lot of cultures and ethnicities playing our game, and we have to educate people on showing respect for all.

"I think the only way to do that is when they're young."

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Aaron Cunningham Adrian Barry Armagh Croke Park Crossmaglen Rangers Eoin Sheahan GAA George Floyd Off The Ball