I am the son of an Irishman, but I won’t visit my father’s homeland until a man who knows many tough men is safely in his grave.
Did I get your attention?
You know that there’s a story here and I can tell you most of it. Everything, really, except some names, especially the name of the man who knows many tough men and also the precise layouts of high courts in several jurisdictions. That man knows many Irish lawyers. I know only one Irish lawyer—actually, only one lawyer at all—and he gives me sage counsel only when he’s stark naked.
Are you still with me?
Okay, some background. Please accept that everything that follows here is true.
I am a sportswriter of small distinction. I’ve had a lifelong ambition to see my byline in a well-respected Irish newspaper, a story complete with the odd dollop of high Hibernian prose, flashing words like “codswallop” and “cnawvshawling.” I dreamed I might somehow channel my sportswriting hero, Eamon Dunphy, who wrote this of Liam Brady, a national hero:
“He is often looked on as a great player. He is nothing of the kind. His performance on Wednesday was a disgrace, a monument to conceit adorned with vanity and self-indulgence, rendered all the more objectionable by the swagger of his gait.”
Reading this brings to mind my naked lawyer, but I digress.
So I set about finding an idea to pitch the sports editor of the well-respected Irish newspaper. I came up with a winner: a son of the Auld Sod was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In my pitch I detailed how it would be bittersweet—the Irish boxer being honored, sound of mind and body, was going into the hall with a couple of American fighters who were clearly broken physically and neurologically. One had even successfully sued a wild-haired promoter for millions for shortchanging him and sending him into the ring brain-damaged. The irony: upon the Irish fighter’s retirement, he loudly lobbied on the cause of safety, health care and insurance for fighters.
I received an email from the sports editor. The story was a go for the paper’s monthly sports supplement. The fee wasn’t much. Still, my dream was about to come true. I set about my research.
Over the phone I interviewed the Irish fighter and the two American champions—one even had a friend “translate” for him because the game had left him unable to speak clearly. Stuff to break your heart.
To provide some background, I consulted an expert commentator, an old-time boxing scribe based in New York, a loudmouth who cultivated an image straight out of the B movies of the 1940s, right down to the cheap fedora. Mid-cigar chomp, the scribe described watching the Irish fighter wilt during a championship fight held in 110-degree heat in Las Vegas. The oh-what-might-have-been seemed to be the stuff that would set off Guinness-drenched reminiscences.
I fired off a draft of my story, two months before deadline out of consideration for the photo department.
There followed a deafening silence for a few weeks. No emails back. No phone calls. No cheque. Nothing.
Then one day, an anguished call. The sports editor. I thought he was going to ask me questions about the piece before sending it to press. Instead, he told me that the piece had already run and that the former manager of the Irish champ was suing the well-respected Irish paper for libel in both Dublin and Belfast. He told me to gather up my notes for questions from editors on high and company lawyers.
Libel? This small piece of nostalgia and hagiography? Well, none of my overwrought prose, just an offhand observation by the American scribe. He suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the Irish champ would have held onto the championship in Las Vegas if his manager “had been looking after him” and held out in negotiations for “the corner in the shade.”
I thought this was, well, a load of codswallop until I googled the former manager. Hundreds of hits came up. A few had to do with boxing. Most had to do with a string of successful libel cases, including one for millions against his former boxing champion and the publishers of the champ’s autobiography. I looked for the champ’s autobiography on bookdealers’ websites: only a few copies existed at about $500 per; thousands had been pulled off the market and pulped as part of an out-of-court settlement. The former manager knew many tough men, most of them lawyers.
The well-respected paper’s editors and lawyers called me several times over the next few days, asking me for details. They told me that the suits filed by the plaintiff named only the paper, not me. They invited me to come to Belfast and Dublin to be deposed, to stay on if it went to trial, all expenses covered, naturally. A chance to catch up with relatives.
I gave this considerable thought until one day when I made my routine trip to the Y and encountered the only lawyer I know. An Irishman no less, one who works internationally for business concerns in Toronto. I was in the showers when he walked in straight from the steam bath, pink as a salmon. He casually asked about recent events in my life and I recounted the whole imbroglio of the well-respected Irish paper, the boxing champ and the litigious former manager.
His advice, offered freely, was to the point: “You don’t want to be involved,” he told me. “Do not pick up the phone. Do not respond to emails. Break off all contact. And you certainly don’t want to go there. Just because you haven’t been named to the suit means nothing. The sums of money are immense.”
He then asked questions that were asked only once by the well-respected paper’s editor.
“Did they ever pay you?” he said. “Did you ever sign anything?”
No and no.
“All to the good,” he said.
On the advice of the naked lawyer, I have not picked up a phone in two years. I would not open an email from the well-respected paper for fear that poisonous gas would billow from my laptop. I have never mentioned the litigious manager’s name, nor any other details of said case. Only after I read the litigious manager’s obituary will I be able to bring myself to open a brochure from the Irish Tourism Board.