Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: One gong that's richly deserved

John Kirwan. Photo / Sarah Ivey
John Kirwan. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Another awards ceremony. Yet more recipients brimming with modesty.

You can skewer the national honours system with a giant sword for my money, but if ever a sportsperson deserved a gong then that person is John Kirwan, for his courageous and groundbreaking role in encouraging society to recognise and deal intelligently with depression.

The butcher's boy who became an All Black great has done great.

The honours system, though, is anything but. It is a crock of you know what, where powerbrokers randomly laud standard-bearers of the mainstream ideals, many of which are open to serious question, especially in the political and financial fields.

In some cases it's down to who knows who and who supported who. Politicians also know the value of associating themselves with so-called successful people via the honours system. Honours and awards conveniently fit the capitalists' pet theory that we are all allegedly capable of bettering ourselves (whatever that means) while ignoring the far more significant power of genetics and environment over our lives.

Companions and orders and knighthoods and dames and blah blah blah. Just for doing their job or following their dreams most of the time. All the way from Mangere, Kirwan noted about his life in the Herald that those from certain suburbs might have the inside running.

The whole honours shebang for sport reached a comical nadir after the 2005 Ashes cricket series, when the entire England squad got a nod from the Queen, a testament to how bad English teams had been for the 20 previous years more than anything else. Included in this driftnet wasPaul Collingwood, a fifth test replacement whose contributionto victory was minimal, to puthis total of 17 runs nicely.

Shane Warne once asked Collingwood during a test: "You got an MBE, right? For scoring seven at the Oval?" Good old Warnie.

But if gongs are so necessary, and if someone has to accept them, then John Kirwan is as deserving and more so than any other public figure.

His particular life may have prepared him for the part, but he still had to take that nervous and brave step of going public about his own depression.

Kirwan has truly made an enormous difference in many ways through a selfless act. Through fronting the campaign, he will change lives for the better and way beyond the sports role model PR nonsense that gets jammed down our throats.

The Kirwan-led depression awareness campaign grabbed attention from the outset, and in the Herald office this week there was still conjecture about which former teammate had told Kirwan to "harden up", as he revealed in the initial TV slots.

Indeed, you could also speculate that this was Kirwan's interpretation of the teammate's response. Should the player ever be unmasked, he may give a different version of events, if he remembers them at all. And in the pre Kirwan-led enlightenment age, how was this teammate to know the true nature or extent of any problem?

The top-level male sports environment of days gone by was no place to air uncertainties. That Kirwan - all these years later - was able to shake off the stigma of depression and the shackles of old-school male toughness to help others made a lot of us quietly and extremely proud of him, not to mention expanding our thinking about the illness.

Kirwan's message pops up everywhere in the internet age. He may even be pointing the way for others in fields such as addiction, which also needs a high-profile figure to break down taboos, and thus help the general population understand a condition rather than see only a moral issue.

Sport, with its highly public incidents, image-conscious cookie-cutter philosophies and punitive reactions, has taken public understanding of addiction backwards, if anything. Conversely, Kirwan has made us think properly about depression via the delivery of authentic information with no strings attached.

So arise, Sir John, if you wish, although the knighthood is superfluous. You had risen in our estimation and hearts anyway.

* Yawn, yawn, yawn. The North v South rugby encounter is a sham and those who bring up the memory of the real interisland clashes, held many years ago, are only hurting their own reputation with the deception. If the top players from the All Black squad are not taking part, we're not interested. The game is a con job, a sop after another of rugby's financial messes. The public ain't fooled.

* Spear tackling keeps raising its ugly head in rugby and sadly the judiciary isn't taking this seriously, even though the match officials are doing an excellent job. Sanzar has given Chiefs wing Maritino Nemani and Blues forward Steven Luatua what are Claytons suspensions that run during the Super 15 hiatus. Neither player will miss a significant game. Coaches Dave Rennie and Pat Lam will have more sense than the judiciary, we trust, and drive a better message home. Both players, judging by their reactions, knew they had stuffed up. So, well done to the referees and linesmen, and a big black mark to Sanzar.

* Julian Savea is the player I'm most looking forward to seeing don the All Black jersey. His size, pace and power are a potential game changer - and will make him a world rugby superstar. Savea running off Sonny Bill Williams - now that's a prospect to drool over.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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