Boozy Sportsmen – “It’s Not OK”

In the last week or so at least three prominent New Zealand sportsmen have hit the headlines with their out of control drunken antics. So why do our sports administrators continue to tolerate boorish behaviour, wife beating and ongoing alcohol abuse amongst their players?

Perhaps part of the answer to this question is that most of those administrators have emerged from the same ranks as the players and have themselves witnessed or been involved in the odd indiscretion in the past. Punishments handed out to players for drunken escapades seem to be light and sports managers frequently appear to be apologists on the basis that these incidents are just “young men letting off a bit of steam”. Judges are complicit in that they hand out meaningless sentences such as “diversion” whereas ordinary mortals would be dealt with more sternly.

The embedded booze culture and bad behaviour of our sportsmen (and their sports presenter cronies) is a blight on our society which continues to be swept under the carpet because of their hero status. But it is their status that makes it all the worse. Sports players are role models for others. Players who pull on a jersey with a silver fern and accept lucrative contracts carry their nation’s pride upon their shoulders and are public property 24/7, whether they like it or not. Publicly tolerating anti-social behaviour sends a strong message to society that the implications of drunkeness and violence are minimal for the perpetrators.

It seems bizarre that after a continual stream of embarrassing incidents over many years, only now is the Rugby Union considering behaviour clauses in player contracts. Clearly, sports administrators do not take this problem seriously. Perhaps they should accept some advice from the television media. Wayward TV personalities get dropped like hot potatoes after Court appearances because the industry understands that perception is everything and damaged reputations cost ratings points. Broadcasters also receive large sums of advertising money from politically correct government agencies determined to stamp out domestic violence by waging a guilt campaign on ordinary citizens. Perhaps those agencies are focussing in the wrong place.

8 thoughts on “Boozy Sportsmen – “It’s Not OK”

  1. Y’know, although I agree with you on every point whole-heartedly, I can’t help but think that it’s the pressure cooker environment you allude to with:
    “But it is their status that makes it all the worse. Sports players are role models for others. Players who pull on a jersey with a silver fern and accept lucrative contracts carry their nation’s pride upon their shoulders and are public property 24/7, whether they like it or not”
    that is half the problem. Young people with all the maturity one would expect of an 18- or 19- year old are suddenly dumped into social roles they have had no training or preparation for and are suddenly expected to be role models for our youth. At the same time, they are treated not so much as public property (although that is the image put forward), but as the property of the media (whose objective is to use the rising stars of NZ’s very sick sporting culture to sell papers/ratings). Considering the intense spotlight our young sporting stars are forced under, it’s no surprise they choose some rather unhealthy methods to let off steam. They are, after all, forced under a hell of a lot more pressure than they ever asked for or were equipped to deal with. Nothing ever surprised me about the very public and very young meltdowns of the likes of Jonah Lomu or Norm Hewitt or any sports star since.

    The number one reason I have always respected Danyon Loader is because he told the media to go eff themselves (or words to that effect) and insisted on living his own life. He took a lot of shit for that, but in giving him all that shit, the NZ media showed itself up for the shallow, exploitive beast that it is, and in the process, only managed to make Danyon look the ever greater athlete and man.

    In NZ sporting stars have only one advantage over ancient Roman gladiators, and that is that they don’t face imminent death every time they go to work. But our media is no different to those in ancient Rome who made their fortune peddling gladiators. Their only care is about generating enough of a spectacle to get bums on seats- human cost of getting said bums on said seats be damned.

    And sure, the binge-drinking culture is bad, but it is hardly limited to NZ sports. I saw some pretty horrific things done with alcohol in my scarfie days. But putting “behaviour clauses” in athletes’ contracts is putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff. The problem is not booze in NZ sports, because binge drinking is a problem in NZ society at large. The problem is NZ’s very sick worship of sporting prowess and our media’s exploitation of that.

  2. The “pressure-cooker” excuse was trotted out again this week by Black Caps management. I don’t buy it. Most of the other team members seem to have their drinking under control, or at least don’t let it affect their game.

    The few that let their teams down do so in a very public way. Jesse Ryder has been given several chances now. How many more incidents will it take to get him sent off permanently?

    I had a few drinks when I was at uni too. But I never hit anyone or busted up cars or toilet windows. If we accept that representative sports players are immune from discipline and self-control then surely this sends the wrong message to the rest of society – including scarfies.

  3. I’m inclined to accept the pressure cooker excuse once for very young players who have only recently achieved their fame, and then only if they realise they have a problem and do something about it. But given the role athletes play in NZ society, the sporting authorities absolutely should hold the athletes to very high standards of public behaviour.

    But I suspect that until Kiwis put sport back where it belongs and our media stops hypeing sporting success to such extremes and until our country develops a more mature approach to alcohol, we will continue to see these very public meltdowns.

    Actually, I’m so out of touch with NZ sport I don’t actually know who Jesse Ryder is. But I’m inclined to agree that repeat offenders should be shown the door.

  4. I have a decidedly difficult time getting excited or upset when sports celebrities are censured either by the courts or their own governing bodies. I’m not sure why we (read – the media) make such a big fuss when this unsurprisingly happens.

    Sportsmen and women who populate the country’s top sports teams are selected on form and the physical attributes they bring to their discilpines (a carefully selected wording). And as an engaged nation we are often quoted as wanting the best players in each role which is absolutely fair.

    These people are athletes. They are physical by nature and mostly not selected for their cerebral attributes although some lucky individuals are endowed with both. On the whole I think our top teams do pretty well in the social stakes given this and to expect much more is simply whimsical nonsense.

    It is foolish expectation to imagine that all but a few will be much more than wonderful artisans of their sports. I don’t give a flying f**k if one or two of them fall off the wagon or get into a bit of trouble with the law. It is only reflective of the whole of our society and only an idiot would hold up sports people as social or intellectual role models. This is the failure we make. Don’t expect the sportsmen on your TV to necessarily make a good social role model for your child.

    To be honest I get a bit annoyed when people from accademia and other theoretically more cerebral realms provide trite commentary in areas they know little about or have little interest in other than deriding the whole concept eg sport and competition because they see it as anathema to their own narrow-minded interests.

    Further – I would wager that, in fact, those who do inhabit those sometimes more hallowed realms actually have a worse record for misconduct than sports people. It would make interesting reading, for example, to compare with the top eschelons of medicine, law and (of course) politics who the real offenders in our society are. Glass houses etc…

  5. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a university professor smashing up parked cars or beating on his girlfriend. Just because some sports players are lacking in the brain cell department, doesn’t place them above the law.

    Sure, people other than sportsmen transgress. But the difference is that sports players are very much in the public eye. They accept the mantle of responsibility when they sign their fat contracts. If top sports people can’t be good role models for my child then I shall simply discourage him from participating in sport and from watching it on TV.

    There is another principle at stake here. If I was convicted of a violent crime it would be grounds for dismissal by my employer, yet sports players seem to be largely immune from this threat. Why should they be treated any differently than the general public?

  6. Trouble is, Gabriel, for better or worse athletes do play a huge public role and are held up as rolemodels, not much different from teachers, politicians (although nobody expects much in the way of morality from them) and clergy. Ever notice the huge outcry whenever a teacher or member of the clergy is caught doing things they shouldn’t? Considering the place athletes have in NZ society, they, too, should be held to a higher standard.

  7. My assertion , Wangbo (??), is that the failure is ours – placing a higher expectation on one section of society than any other, irrespective of profile is fundamentally flawed as well may be the whole concept of making random individuals role models.

    Goodness knows our politicians are no less familiar with judicial processes than our sportspeople (who vaslty outnumber them) and are equally likely to be treated leniently (see below). I don’t believe there is anyone here suggesting that athletes (or anyone) are above the law. Not quite sure where that came from.

    “In 2007 McCready brought a private prosecution against Labour MP Mr Mallard for assaulting National MP Tau Henare outside Parliament’s debating chamber.

    Mr Mallard lashed out at Mr Henare, who had been taunting him about his private life.

    Mr Mallard was convicted of the lesser offence of fighting in a public place and ordered to pay $500 to the Salvation Army Bridge programme, which deals with alcohol and drug dependency.”

    I was also interested, Paul, to note that you would discourage your child from say, playing Rugby or Cricket, per chance, because both Jessie Ryder and Norm Hewitt have a penchant for putting their extremities through plate glass and falling foul of the authorities.

    Surely this is simply a knee-jerk reaction to the very small minority of ‘loose-heads’ within each realm. Would you deter him from becoming the MP for Wellington Central based on the same paradigm? How exactly do you intend to execute this discouragement? What if (gasp) he ends up with a mind of his own? What if (God forbid) he turns out to be the best Full Back the Rugby world has ever seen, while simultaneously reading particle physics and philosophy at Oxford, of course?

    Personally, I am happy to encourage my own children toward any discipline of career, sport, art or entertainment that fires their interest and regularly tell them so. I want them to grow up respecting their own opinions, tastes and feelings and not insist they adopt mine just because I donated a little DNA their way a few years ago. The real enemy for our children in this virtual age is apathy and disinterest NOT bad role models.

    You will be amazed at how disseminating most children are regading this.
    Just because your daughter likes a Brittney Spears song today does not automatically mean she will adopt her lifestyle or morality (or IQ!) in the near future. Just as you did not when you were young. Thus your son might well adopt Jessey Ryder’s Lofted cover drive (assuming he were allowed to play) but is likely to forgo the inclination for drunken window demolition.

  8. Gabriel, there’s no need for the (??). You can call me Wangbo, Wang Bo, wáng bó ?? or Chris Waugh, as you please.

    Now, you seem to have rather an idealistic streak, and that’s a good thing, but in this real world we live in, whether we like it or not, certain people are held up as role models. In New Zealand, that would be athletes, the All Blacks first, cricketers second, and all others close behind. You’re right in that said athletes are not chosen for their brains or moral fortitude, but for their physical attributes, but the fact remains they are promoted as role models for our youth, and that is “all round” role models. Therefore, like teachers and the clergy, we have little choice but to hold them to a higher standard of behaviour. It sucks, but that’s the way the world is.

    Politicians are public figures and ‘role models’ to an extent, but nobody ever expected much in the way of moral fortitude out of them. They’re in a similar social position to athletes, teachers and the clergy, but different.

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