NZ sport has made its bed in the #MeToo era


If there’s one thing New Zealand sporting bodies can agree on, it’s that they are all glad not to be the managers of the Australian National Rugby League right now.

It seems every fortnight we get a new scandal or sex tape showing the less-than-exemplary behaviour of a whole crop of NRL players.

The fact I can Google (purely for research purposes) over three pages of sex tape related material associated with NRL players says something about the media’s fascination with these stories and that league players really need to turn the camera off.

But as much as I enjoy talking about the dalliances of Australia’s favourite bad boys, the issue today is a little closer to home.

At 5.15 tonight , Crusaders winger Sevu Reece will make his Super Rugby debut against the struggling Chiefs in Christchurch.

Reece, who had a stellar Mitre 10 Cup season with Waikato, had inked a two-year deal with Irish side Connacht, but it was ripped up in October, after his involvement in a domestic violence incident in July.

Reece was seen grabbing his partner and pulling her down to the ground, after the pair got into an argument.

The woman suffered injuries to her face and bruising to her waist and knee.

The judge granted Reece a discharge without conviction and fined him $750.

It was enough for Connacht to end their association with the Waikato winger, and initially, Reece was not named in any Super Rugby squads.

However, Reece was called into the Crusaders’ camp for pre-season training, and has now been named in the defending champions’ starting lineup for their clash against the Chiefs on Saturday

When Reece was called in for their pre-season training, Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar said his player deserved a second chance, citing the genuine remorse and acceptance Reece felt about his actions.

Even rugby’s cool uncle and Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson backed his speedster, saying Reece had worked as hard as anyone in the group and was glad he was part of the champion team’s set-up.

Now, I don’t know Reece from a bar of soap and I likely never will, so I can’t confirm nor deny whether the winger is as a good a guy as the Crusaders coaching staff would have you believe.

One thing I would say is that Robertson’s commitment to Reece over such a delicate matter should not be dismissed so readily as he is one of the more honourable men in rugby today.

But the outrage over many of the talkback channels and throughout social media is that Reece should not be allowed to pursue what could be a very successful career in a sport idolised by the majority of New Zealand kids after his actions.

Similar reaction has been seen over the not-guilty verdict of a rape charge against Northern Districts and Black Caps paceman Scott Kuggeleijn.

The bowler who bats has seen international success over this summer, but not without consistent speculation over whether he should be included in the national side.

People have shown up to Kuggeleijn’s games with signs protesting his place in the side and a number of strong opinion pieces have been written from a variety of media institutions expressing their dissent at his inclusion and the glorification over his recent form.

What comes out of incidents like these is an impossible choice with ramifications on both sides, regardless of whether a player is found innocent or guilty of what they are alleged to have done.

Putting it simply, sporting bodies can choose one of two options, stand by a player and accept the criticism from those outraged, or kick them out, taking flak from those who believe the exclusion is an overreaction and setting a precedent for other incidents in the future.

Either way, these things never look good for a sport.

Looking at both Kuggeleijn’s and Reece’s cases, New Zealand sport has set the precedent that players can and should be given a chance and continue their life in sport.

It must be emphasised that in Kuggeleijn’s case, he was not found guilty of rape and I would suspect he would much prefer me to stop talking about it altogether so he can move his life in the right direction.

Even so, claims of improper behaviour that haven’t been substantiated have gone a long way in ruining the careers of many people in the public spotlight, particularly in the United States.

In a society that places so much importance on public outrage, careers have been ended or irrevocably tarnished due to these claims and tells us that even the innocent can be affected by such talk.

It always comes back to this discussion of how sportspeople should act. As kids, we have it in our mind that the stars we see on television performing miracles on the pitch, court or field are faultless in their character and impeccable in their morals.

That’s the root of where all the outrage comes from because these incidents feel like a betrayal of the beliefs sports fans have held for decades.

If people can not recognise that sports players are people too and sometimes they can do pretty average things, we will only continue this vicious cycle.

At the end of the day, New Zealand’s sporting bodies have drawn a line in the sand and I expect them to stand by it.

Rightly or wrongly, they have stood by their players who have recently gone through controversy and given them another chance to rid a potentially career-ending reputation.

There must be some credit given to them for being so committed to their players. The critics may put that down to a refusal of the truth and an unwillingness to let go of past values.

For me, especially in the case of Kuggeleijn, he was found not guilty, we’ve only got the one justice system and we need to have at least some faith in it.

In a time where public image is so important for sporting bodies, to stand by players who could potentially harm that image is commendable at the least.

I hope Sevu Reece doesn’t hurt anyone for the rest of his life. But if his partner and rugby club are supporting him to forge a career in rugby after what was a horrific mistake, I duly hope he pays back that faith on the park tonight.

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