Ronan Tynan, the Jewish joke and the Yankees: 'I feel raped by the press'

Published Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 11:50 AM

“I feel raped by the press. I really do.” So said Irish tenor Ronan Tynan in an interview with the Irish Voice this week. “I know the disrespect of pain and discrimination from being disabled in my life, and to think that this woman made this judgment, accepts my apology and went right to the news with this crazy story that I am against Jews when half my band are Jewish just blows my mind.”

You know the Irish.

The quick wit makes us the life of the party. Is there any race of people on the planet that can create a one-liner that gets the room laughing faster than we can?

Of course, we can sometimes miss the mark in our humor and if we offend, we clean it up and move on. Most people that know us know we don’t mean anything by it.

When you are in the public eye, you can sometimes pay a heavy price for that Irish trait, as is the case for Tynan. Anyone living in New York has heard by now of the chance meeting he had with a real estate agent outside his Manhattan apartment. “Two Jewish ladies were coming to view it and the agent said, ‘They are very particular’ and I said, ‘I don’t know how they will deal with having a singer beside them, practicing all the time. That could be scary.’ We laughed about it,” Tynan explained to The Irish Times.

On the following morning, another estate agent showed up with a potential tenant. “At least they’re not (Boston) Red Sox fans,” the agent joked.

“At least they’re not the Jewish ladies,” Tynan said. He was referring to the finicky clients he had met earlier.

From there, all hell broke loose. With his stadium-sized voice, Tynan was the perfect person to sing the National Anthem for the Yankees; they even gave him a championship ring when they won when times were good.

But when the realtor’s client mistook his comment and complained to owner George Steinbrenner’s people, the ball club distanced themselves from him and the New York press had a field day with it.

“I am kind of numb with it now, even though it is nearly a month on,” he says during an interview that found the singer at times bitter, defiant, resigned, and wistful.

“I got brandished as an anti-Semite. The New York Times or the New York Post didn’t have the courtesy to call to get my side of it. Had they called, they would have found out that I addressed the misunderstanding on the spot and even donated to the woman’s favorite charity as a gesture of my sincerity.”

He is quick to point out that the Irish American community has been extremely supportive during this trying time. Of course we have -- the speed of quick Irish wit doesn’t always allow for the brain and tongue to talk to one another, so we know what it is like to back pedal when a comment misses the mark.

But how heavy a price does one have to pay for one stray joke? The Yankees and many fans have short memories. They forget that Tynan was the one who rolled up his sleeves and went to work at the 9/11 disaster site, offering comfort to the workers on the scene and then singing at 54 funerals in the days following that terrorist attack.

The Kilkenny tenor has become an unofficial ambassador to Ireland over the years, showing our can-do attitude by not letting the amputation of both legs stop him from studying medicine and singing at memorial services for firefighters and police killed on 9/11, at President Reagan’s funeral, George W. Bush’s White House and the wedding of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

How soon we forget here in New York. In an instant, all of that goodwill was washed away for, well, being Irish.
In a few seconds, his reputation was forever damaged and the effect of the fallout has been profound on both his career and personal life.

“My sister Fiona worries so much about me and has been in remission for three years with her MS,” Tynan explains.

“She is sicker now and I really think I caused that by the stress this has put us all under. She is the light of my life and it’s really hard to be with that.

“Fiona relapsing was the darkest day and I blame myself. Had I not been so Irish in my nature this would not have happened. I am not going to apologize for being a bigot because I am not.”

In these tough times, Tynan has been moved by the friends who have stood by him, including the archbishop of New York and former President George H.W. Bush.

Bush wrote a letter to the Yankees in which he said, “He is a good man, a fair man, certainly not an anti-Semite. It would be very good if your organization could in some way recognize that this incident, though unfortunate, could be forgotten.

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