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Ron Sirak

Nothing To Gain

In confronting the issue of his cultural identity, Rory McIlroy is bound to disappoint someone

September 11, 2012

We are all three distinct people. Our public self is the person those at work know; our private self is reserved for close friends and family; and our secret self possesses the dreams and desires we share with few, if any -- that novel we want to write, the acting class we want to take, the mountain we want to climb.

Rory McIlroy and his Olympic dilemma are plopped into a position that blurs the line between two of those three. Who we are is a product of where we have been, and the fact McIlroy's roots are in Northern Ireland, with its violent political past and contentious ties to England, makes his indecision about whether to compete for Great Britain or Ireland when golf returns to the Olympics in 2016 a sore subject.

It's really a no-win situation for the young man. There are precious few athletes who have been able to link principle -- their private self -- with their profession  their public self. Jackie Robinson was thrust into it when he was selected to integrate baseball in 1947. Muhammad Ali chose it when he opposed the war in Vietnam War in the 1960s and was blacklisted from professional boxing for nearly four years.

Michael Jordan -- who famously refused to back a Democrat for governor of North Carolina in 1990 by saying "Republicans buy shoes, too," -- and Tiger Woods have chosen to keep their personal opinions far removed from their public self.

Related: Rory issues open letter on his "cultural identity"

Andy Murray is placed in a position similar to McIlroy by being a Scot adopted by Britain because he is the first Brit to win a Grand Slam tennis event since Englishman Fred Perry in 1936. As William Shakespeare wrote: "Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them."

McIlroy, who has won three of his last four tournaments and is the unquestioned best player in the world at age 23, was compelled the day after winning the BMW Championship to tweet a letter that began this way:

"I was hoping my success on the golf course would be the more popular topic of golfing conversation today! However, the issue of my cultural identity has re-emerged, and with it, the matter of my national allegiance ahead of the Rio Olympics in 2016."

While saying he is "a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland," McIlroy, who is Catholic, adds that he is "a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be."

By choosing Great Britain, McIlroy would risk alienating the Irish. If he choses Ireland, he would risk angering the Brits by possibly fanning the flames of unity between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where a common bumper sticker reads: "26+6=1" referring to the 26 countries of Ireland and the six counties in the north.

Related: Rory is Tiger's latest on-course "bromance"

"As the World No. 1 right now, I wish to be a positive role model and sports person that people respect and enjoy watching," McIlroy said, before adding: "I wish to clarify that I have absolutely not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics."

How we get to who we are is not an easily understood road by those who have not made the journey with us. I came from a family of Hungarian and Irish immigrants who worked in the factories of Western Pennsylvania and I will never forget being in Mr. Hinneman's eighth period reading class at Neshannock Junior/Senior High School outside New Castle, Pa., on Nov. 22, 1963, when I found out President John Kennedy had been killed.

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