Tyson Fury, a Gypsy, has said some offensive things and has been vilified by public opinion. David Cameron, the prime minister, said a deeply offensive thing and there has been comparatively little reaction. Where is society’s sense of proportion?
I first became aware of Tyson Fury, the self-styled “Gypsy King”, last month when he won a stunning victory against the long-time champion to become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world.
Fury is a 6 foot 9 inch giant from Manchester. He is the son of “Gypsy” John Fury, a bare-knuckle fighter, who named him after the fearsome Mike Tyson. He had a chaotic childhood with little schooling. He is a born-again Christian with a deep belief in the truth of the Bible.
I first had contact with the Gypsy community when I was a Criminal lawyer, some 25 years ago. I observed then the terrible prejudice that Gypsies face. Police, gaolers, lawyers, sometimes even the judiciary, did not even feel the need to hide their contempt. Not much has changed: Gypsies are the most discriminated against and marginalised group in our country.
I thought it was wonderful that Tyson Fury had brought some rare success and pride to his community.
But now, Fury has been branded a sexist and a homophobe. He has faced a police enquiry (now dropped) into his alleged homophobic remarks and over 130,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the BBC ban him from their flagship BBC Sports Personality of the Year. A BBC presenter has called him a “dickhead” on air (not to his face). The Guardian’s Michael White has described him as “mouthy and opinionated in an ugly and stupid way.” The same paper’s Gaby Hinsliff says his views are repugnant and he “has already lost in every way that counts.”
Sexism and homophobia are not binary, black and white concepts. There are shades of grey. All sexism and homophobia is wrong but some is worse than others. Not all sexist and homophobes are as extreme as the King of Saudi Arabia.
Fury is a sexist. He said: - “A woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back”. Such crass sexist comments are often heard in men-only environments from the Garrick Club, to the Rugby Club, to the pub. That does not make them in any way acceptable, of course, but it should give people a sense of proportion.
Moments after Fury became champion, he grabbed a microphone and sung his wife a romantic love song. I thought that was lovely.
A complaint was made to the police that Fury had “incited hatred towards homosexuals” by suggesting that all homosexuals are paedophiles. This allegation has been repeated across the media. No wonder people hate Fury.
However, Fury never said what is alleged. This is what he actually said: - “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the Devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal, one is abortion being legal and the other is paedophilia being legal.”
Fury explains his view as stemming from his reading of the Bible. Millions of religious people hold similar views. Fury told journalists that his views are the same as the Pope’s. By all means attack the homophobia found in religion, but when attacking Fury for those same views, people need a sense of proportion.
Fury has defended himself vehemently. He denies sexism and homophobia. He has said: - “I don’t think gay people are paedophiles. Two adults consenting to love each other is a different matter to someone messing with a child.”
When offensive remarks are made, it obviously matters who makes them. Fury is a boxer, not a headteacher, CEO or prime minister.
And in all the fury over Fury’s comments, people have ignored the fact that while some of his views deserve criticism, others deserve praise.
From Fury’s own words, found online, he comes across as intelligent, intense and interesting.
Fury is fiercely proud of his family and his community. He wants to do some good in the world in areas where he has seen so many lives blighted - alcoholism, drug addiction and homelessness. He talks frankly about his own sometimes suicidal depression. And he talks a great deal about his belief in the Bible.
For me, the most striking thing that Fury says - many times - is his disdain for the material trappings of “success”. Here are some typical quotes.
“…if we just were born to die for 70 years or 90 or 15 or 20, then what is the point of being born in the beginning. What is it for? To buy a house and a car and get old and die? For me, that would be a pointless life lived…you get caught up in worldly things i.e. wanting, wanting, wanting all the time. Throughout history…if a man had a billion, he’d want 10 billion. …When is enough enough?”
“My be all and end all is passing through here, trying to do a few good things on the way, helping people….It ain’t about winning the title for me…it’s not about all that sort of stuff and what they think success is. People think success is being rich and driving nice cars and being Mr Flash. Success isn’t that.”
Sports journalist Barney Ronay writes: - “Success now is unlikely to change a relatively humble lifestyle….Fury can be, according to those who know him, a hospitable, gentle, funny, talkative, slightly disarming presence.”
Compare Tyson Fury with one of his opponents for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 world champion. Hamilton - “perfect” and bland - never expresses an opinion on anything and lives in tax exile enjoying the material rewards of success. Who is the better role model?
Meanwhile, as I wrote last week, David Cameron called anyone who opposed his plan to bomb in Syria a “terrorist sympathiser”. That is similar to calling them traitors. And Cameron is the prime minister, not a boxer.
If as a society we had a proper sense of proportion, the front pages and the news on TV and radio should have been carrying powerful demands for the prime minister to withdraw such a gross slur and never repeat it again.
But the media failed to understand how serious Cameron’s words were. And, anyway, they were busy attacking the Gypsy. Where is society’s sense of proportion?