GAA Football

GAA must clamp down hard on incidents of racism says Armagh forward Jemar Hall

Jemar Hall is an integral part of Kieran McGeeney's Armagh side.
Pic: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

THE GAA needs to clamp down hard on incidents of racism to encourage diversity in its games, says Armagh forward Jemar Hall.

The Forkhill clubman, one of a handful of black players in inter-county football, has had to deal with racist abuse at underage and senior level in the GAA and while playing soccer and believes that education is the key to driving racist attitudes out of society.

“It has to start with education in primary school and secondary schools and just go from there,” says the talented half-forward who is an integral part of Kieran McGeeney’s emerging Orchard County side.

“It’s a society thing – if people aren’t educated and they feel like somebody is different they will just say things to insult them.

“I’d like to see the GAA stamp it out and give racists a proper ban because taking abuse might put players who come from different backgrounds – Poland, Nigeria or wherever it is – off playing the sport. It would be good to see something in place that eradicates it.”

Jemar was first the target for racist comments when he spun out of tackles and danced around defenders at youth level. Opponents who couldn’t match him for skill or pace attempted to put him off with vile sledging.

“I felt like I had been singled out,” he said.

“But then I went out to prove a point. I felt like I needed to be better than them and I thought: ‘Fuck them, I’m just going to show them what I can do no matter what my background is or what colour of skin I have’. I wanted to show how good I was and I hope people would see that rather than the colour of my skin.”

And that abuse has continued at senior level. He recalled a shocking incident that occurred when he was playing for Newry Cit.

“I was playing up front and the other team’s centre-half was calling me all sorts of names: Monkey… all that sort of craic.

“Even though there was a black guy playing for his team too he was saying all this to me, right up close into my ear.

“I fobbed it off and started slagging him back. I tried to laugh it off.

“Sometimes people see it as a bit of slagging but it’s far more personal than that – it’s a gutting feeling when someone says something like that to you. It’s hard to explain how you feel when it happens to you, it’s very hard to take and you wouldn’t know what it’s really like unless it happens to you.

“When I’m out socially and I hear a comment – it mightn’t have been directed at me – sometimes I just pretend I didn’t hear it because I don’t want to start an argument. Most of the time I’d be the only black person there because all my friends are white and somebody in a different circle might say something and you just ignore it because you don’t want to cause any problems.”

Jemar’s dad Sherman grew up in the town of Frederick in Maryland, just outside Washington DC. He had to contend with racism throughout his life until married and settled in south Armagh in the late 1980s.

Sherman had been a talented American Footballer and basketball player and he quickly discovered a passion and talent for the GAA and lined out for Forkhill in midfield or at full-forward. He is still involved in coaching.

“My da has been welcomed by the community since he first came over here,” says Jemar.

“He lives and breathes Gaelic Football now and he has helped numerous teams in Armagh and Down, development squads in Armagh and basketball teams in Dublin.

“He has been welcomed but there is a small minority of people who aren’t educated enough and go out and try and insult people for the sake of saying something.”

Since the barbaric killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, anti-racism protests have been held across the globe and Irish people have been quick to show their solidarity in rallies from Galway to Derry and Belfast to Dublin.

“It’s nice to see everyone coming out whether they’re black or white,” said Jemar.

“Look at the rallies in Belfast and Dublin, they were so diverse and it was great to see the numbers that came out. I couldn’t get over the amount of people who are supporting it, even on social media.

“I didn’t expect to see this reaction but it has been a global thing and so strong and positive. I feel as if things are changing and people are able to speak out and understand the issues. It’s great to see.”

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