Rory McIlroy hails from Northern Ireland, a land where political tensions remain within the living memory of most of the population. So it's no surprise that he would find himself, albeit unwittingly and unwillingly, in the middle of a small political crisis.
Flash back a little over a week ago, when McIlroy won the U.S. Open in triumphal fashion. As he leaves the 18th hole, you can see a fan throw a small Irish tricolor flag onto McIlroy's shoulders. Moments later, he doesn't have it:
Why isn't McIlroy wearing the flag? As this article from the Irish Times (via Press Tent) notes, Northern Ireland loyalists say that McIlroy has no use for the flag; others say that McIlroy, a Catholic, simply has no desire to get involved in the region's Protestant-Catholic politics.
(Of note: that article also points out the fact that the murder of McIlroy's great-uncle is being reopened. Joseph McIlroy was gunned down in his own kitchen in 1972, allegedly for being the first Catholic to move into a Protestant region of East Belfast. No charges have ever been filed in the case.)
This is reminiscent of an incident that happened during the 1990 World Basketball Championships, when Vlade Divac, a Yugoslavian, threw Croatia's flag to the ground when a fan approached him with it. He had no idea of the impact this small act would have, both on his homeland and on his personal life. Here's a quick recap via ESPN's exceptional documentary "Once Brothers":
Fortunately for McIlroy's sake, the protests appear confined to message boards and the like. But it's a reminder that sports and politics are never inseparable, no matter how much fans might wish them to be so.