Jackson: Society, not rugby, needs to change its culture

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Smith might well be judged as terminally stupid, but he wasn't the first, and won't be the last individual to succumb the temptations, writes Jackson.
Smith might well be judged as terminally stupid, but he wasn't the first, and won't be the last individual to succumb the temptations, writes Jackson.

The outcry over rugby's recent scandals is a red herring, argues Northland Age editor Peter Jackson. He says what needs to change is society's culture when it comes to sex, relationships and respect.

Rugby New Zealand should be ashamed of itself. Its plan to establish a panel that will supposedly promote a change in rugby's culture is an outrageous capitulation to political correctness and style over substance; a meaningless, pointless sop that will achieve nothing - because there's nothing to be achieved.

The 'scandals' behind this gesture are not signs of the imminent demise of civilisation.

'Strippergate', it now seems (but has not been widely reported), was predicated on the behaviour of a 70-year-old bus driver, who one suspects does not play super rugby, while all Aaron Smith's adulterous dalliance in an airport toilet proves is that this most gifted of players hasn't learned from his previous indiscretions.

Smith might well be judged as terminally stupid, but he wasn't the first, and won't be the last individual to succumb the temptations endowed by stardom and/or prove unable to control his testosterone.

The charging of teenager Losi Filipo after his brutal assault on four harmless people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time had nothing to do with rugby, but does at least offer evidence, if it were needed, that we have a serious problem, not with rugby's culture but with the thuggery that now litters the news on a daily basis.

How rugby is supposed to prevent men (and boys) from behaving badly isn't immediately clear, but the point is, the game doesn't have a problem. We, as a country have a problem, one that won't be fixed by kowtowing to the people who can't see the elephant on the couch and in charge of the remote.

Surely no one can doubt that what needs to change is the culture that led to the awful death of Warriena Wright on the Gold Coast more than two years ago. Therein lies the problem - the total abandonment of anything approaching the morality that is now, ridiculously, being foisted upon our national game.

To be clear, Warriena Wright did not deserve to die.

She did not deserve to fall into the clutches of an individual who has been portrayed by the prosecution as a sexual predator. He seems to be a man who might be regarded as the epitome of everything that is worst about his hedonistic generation. But it seems to surprise no one that she placed herself in a position where she was in jeopardy of coming to serious harm.

Photograph of Warriena Wrigth and Gabe Tostee shown to the jury in Tostee's trial for murder. Photo / Supplied
Photograph of Warriena Wrigth and Gabe Tostee shown to the jury in Tostee's trial for murder. Photo / Supplied

In my view, she should never have been in Gable Tostee's apartment. If she had observed even a modicum of the social mores of previous generations she would not have been there. To the pre-Tinder generation, it is inconceivable that any woman would behave as Warriena Wright did. Seven minutes after meeting this awful man she was in his home, drinking to the point of gross intoxication, removing her clothing and indulging in sex. This with a man who she had never met before, who she did not know, yet whose behaviour she could have predicted.

The same, of course, goes for Tostee, although for him she was just another notch on his bedpost.

Was Warriena Wright just unlucky? Was she fooled by Tostee's physical appearance and possibly well-mannered demeanour for the duration of their seven-minute courtship? She shouldn't have been. He had made his intentions clear before she set foot in his apartment. She was a willing accomplice.

The pair - by modern standards perhaps they were a couple - had communicated via Tinder over the days before they finally met in person. Those communications say a great deal about Tostee's character and what he was expecting.

It began with Tostee's opening, 'Hey you sexy, slack jawed yokel', followed three days later, after Wright responded, with him writing: 'You look delicious. I want to do dirty things to you ... Can you be a freak in the sheets?' Her response: 'Lol, probably not, depends.' 'What does it depend on?' he enquired. 'What ive had to drink! Lol.' His retort: 'Let's get drunk together. I'm a pornstar after a few drinks!' Wright's reaction to this? 'Haha thats great.'

They finally met after Wright sent the message, 'Plz don't be an old creepy pervy dude.'

It might have been better for her if he had been a creepy, pervy old dude rather than what seems to me to be a powerfully built young narcissist whose stated aim in life appears to be to fornicate with as many women as he possibly can.

What on earth was Warriena Wright thinking? You don't need a Master's in psychology to have a pretty good guess. I believe she was intending to get drunk, and had every reason to believe that she would be 'seduced' by a man who had actually revealed a good deal about his character.

She was happy about that. She knowingly embarked upon a sexual escapade that ended in tragedy. And a number of those who know about these things have assured the writer that that, for some, is how Tinder works.

It's described as a dating site, but 'dating' is not always the right word. For some it has nothing to do with meeting with the intention of getting to know someone who might or might not prove attractive in more than the carnal sense. Dating is about enjoying the company of another person, sharing experiences, exploring interests, possibly developing a relationship.

Once upon a time sexual intercourse would have been the culmination of that process, a deep expression of affection, or if that is irredeemably old-fashioned and romantic, at least a mutual display of attraction.

Gable Tostee and Warriena Wright skipped all those intermediary stages and went straight for the jackpot. And that, for some, it seems, is normal. That's what some people do these days. That's part of the morality of the 21st century. And that's the culture that needs to change.

How one might go about changing the attitude that sex is just a mechanical function with no intellectual or emotional element is a tough one, but the depravity that apparently now passes for normality puts rugby's issues in some perspective.

A bunch of young men who hire a stripper for a party and a foolish, feckless man who allows himself to be seduced in an airport toilet don't hold a candle to this, in my opinion. Yet we don't hear screams that something has to be done. People whose sons and daughters are behaving in this awful fashion are no doubt among those who are applauding the news that Rugby New Zealand is to appoint a bunch of silly busybodies to address the culture that is supposedly gnawing away at the game and destroying lives in the process.

We should be used to hearing such rubbish, but this takes the biscuit. We really do need to start joining the dots between the bad things that happen and the behaviour that makes it all but inevitable that, with increasing frequency, those bad things come to pass. Forget about Strippergate and All Blacks whose emotional maturity doesn't match their physical prowess, and think about the degradation that some of our young people have brought upon themselves.

Think about the issues we have with young people, children even, who destroy their lives with drugs, alcohol, and dangerous behaviour that too often kills them, and sometimes others. Think about the thuggery that has become such a staple of our news diet that it now often goes unremarked upon. Think about our daughters and the ease with which our sons prey upon them.

Rugby's woes, if it has any, are illusory, a red herring.

The real victims are people who will never be household names - until they fall 14 floors from a balcony on the Gold Coast.

Northland Age editor Peter Jackson was judged best editorial writer at the 2015 Canon Media Awards. Photo: File
Northland Age editor Peter Jackson was judged best editorial writer at the 2015 Canon Media Awards. Photo: File

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