Gregor Paul on rugby
Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Guildford deserves empathy not disdain

Zac Guildford. Photo / Getty Images
Zac Guildford. Photo / Getty Images

Condemnation of Zac Guildford would have been instant and widespread yesterday.

The headlines would have been skimmed, the first few paragraphs digested and wham - almost as one - Guildford would have been called an 'idiot. Maybe a 'boof-head', but whatever the terminology, sympathy would have been conspicuously absent.

That's the easy route. The path of the righteous which we are all; readily willing to write a young man off - to talk with a confused sense of why Guildford, who has an opportunity of a lifetime, is willing to almost blow it all for the sake of a good night out.

Highly paid and with the world at his feet - he has to be a 'boof-head' if he can't say no to alcohol?

But maybe he's just a 22-year-old poorly equipped to deal with the enormous demands of his job. He's good at rugby and why we believe that should also somehow make him the paragon of virtue is plain crazy.

Why we believe our All Blacks should be faultless; live their lives in a goldfish bowl and deny themselves entirely the trappings of youth is equally stupid.

We should expect them to behave within the law. Obviously. We should expect them to have some sense that as professional athletes continued alcohol abuse is going to damage their performance.

But while we expect, we shouldn't be surprised that it doesn't always happen. People of all ages from all walks of life who do all sorts of jobs have problems with alcohol. If a chief executive of a multi-national had issues we would put it down to stress?

When Winston Churchill guided the Allies through the Second World War in an alcoholic haze we didn't seem to mind and yet when it is an All Black we seem to be short of understanding and sympathy.

They, apparently, should know better. Despite the fact many of them are undereducated and come from under privileged backgrounds and then have to operate under the glare of an intrusive media and a rabid public - apparently All Blacks should have some kind of innate ability to deal with all life throws at them. Their lives should seemingly be perfect where they never stop smiling and even help old ladies across the road.

Yesterday would have been one of the more excruciating in Guildford's history. He sat in silence for five minutes while he was talked about as if he wasn't there. His humiliation was total but he took it and then talked honestly about first his remorse which was obvious and then his gratitude for being given another chance to deal with his problems.
And his reward for being man enough to accept he has a problem and is doing something about it? Four million people calling him an idiot.

It has taken Guildford some time to accept he had to change his behaviour and tackle his problems with alcohol head on. But he's doing it and for that he deserves the nation's empathy and support not their disdain.

- Herald on Sunday

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