Rachel Stewart: On Aaron Smith, rugby, and New Zealanders

By Rachel Stewart

Sadly, the game I once loved has mutated into a smorgasbord of unsavoury fare.
If you can even begin to imagine Valerie Adams ever doing an Aaron Smith, you surely must be able to also imagine that the narrative would be somewhat different.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
If you can even begin to imagine Valerie Adams ever doing an Aaron Smith, you surely must be able to also imagine that the narrative would be somewhat different. Photo / Brett Phibbs

First, let me set the scene. In doing so, the hope is that when you finish this column you'll maybe - if I'm lucky - comprehend that I don't hate rugby, or sport, or men, or whatever other convenient theory floats your boat.

As a child, my father would wake me up at ungodly hours of the morning to listen to a wooden radio hissing static and intrigue. The All Blacks would be playing England or Wales at home, and if it was 3am then so be it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

As a teen, the tradition continued but the offshore games were slowly becoming televised, while the home games always were. It was an event, a father/daughter bonding session, a love of the game. When it finished, we'd get the cows in for milking.

If we lost, the cowshed talk was minimal. If we won, the talk flowed as freely as the milk into the vat. Good times.

I understand and enjoy the game of rugby. Even in the era of professionalism I respect the speed, the skill, the spectacle. So why do I no longer watch it? Why am I dismissive and scathing about rugby's contribution to New Zealand culture? Why do I feel slightly nauseous when I see the haka?

These are questions I have mulled over for many years. Lately, I have come to some clear conclusions. Sure, much of it involves the toxic masculinity that seems to ooze from rugby's every pore. But it's not just that. Much of it emanates from the rugby fans that appear wilfully blind to that.

After Aaron Smith's quick hook-up in a disabled toilet at Christchurch airport with a woman other than his partner, a form of cognitive dissonance seemed to engulf people.

Rather than look at the act, done on the All Blacks' time and payroll, many commenters took a path of blaming the folks who outed him by recording the deed, or they constantly reiterated the cry that it was consensual sex. In other words, leave him alone all you meanies. Quick! Look over there.

They also blamed the media. Although I agree that filming the actual toilet was a U-bend too far, the story did hold some news value.

There were countless comparisons to his penalty of "voluntarily" missing one test, as if it was definitive proof of one rule for consensual sex and another for the Chiefs and their abusive treatment of a stripper.

On the altar of Kiwi manhood, we worship them because they're good at playing with balls.

Sticking to the point, none of this changes the fact that what Smith did was gross. He had sex in a public toilet, on work time, wearing his team uniform, with a woman other than his partner.

Now, I'm not naïve, wasn't born yesterday, and nor am I a prude. Far from it. But if you truly believe what Smith did was kosher then you are, I must logically conclude, a huge rugby fan. Or someone who thinks it's fine and dandy to have sex in toilets, all while on the clock. Or believe the "boys will be boys" mantra, and other such cerebral feebleness.

We have collectively turned these young men into gods. They are revered, adored, overpaid, jumped up little shits. Yet, on the altar of Kiwi manhood, we worship them because they're good at playing with balls.

Now let me throw this one out there. Let's say our beloved Valerie Adams got off a plane after returning from Rio, sauntered into the airport toilets in her Olympic uniform, and had sex with a man other than her partner or husband? After 15 minutes or so, she then walked out ahead of the unknown man, all flustered and red, rejoined the other athletes, and carried on like nothing unusual had happened.

If you can even begin to imagine Valerie Adams ever doing an Aaron Smith, you surely must be able to also imagine that the narrative would be somewhat different. Oh, something involving the words "slut" or "slapper", her utter disrespect to her man, the entire country, and the Olympic tradition. And, as fast as you can say "double standard", she'd be toast.

So, there's obvious sexism, without a doubt. But wait, there's more. The game I once loved has mutated into a smorgasbord of unsavoury fare.

It manages to conflate a game once played for pure entertainment into a twisted form of patriotism - as if these players are somehow every one of us. It's discussed among fans and commentators as gravely as doctors talk about complicated open heart surgery. It's become all about the money and completely lost sight of its grass roots.

Turning athletes into gods was a tactic employed by the Roman Empire to distract the masses from pressing political matters and naked power plays.

Bread and circuses, my friend. Bread and circuses.

- NZ Herald

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