Sunday, April 7, 2013

Enough soap opera; let's get back to the sport

(First published in The Dominion Post, April 5.)
THE SCRIPTWRITERS for the daily soap opera that masquerades as sport have been busy again this past couple of weeks. Here are a few plot summaries:

Former All Black Jerry Collins spent several days in a Japanese police cell for illegally carrying a knife.  His agent explained that Collins’ relationship with a woman had led to threats from a Brazilian gang. Pure soap – and what an inspired choice to introduce an element of exotic menace by making the gang Latin American.

Then there was cricketer Ronnie Hira, a member of the Canterbury Wizards, who was sent to the naughty corner for not singing the team’s victory song – clearly an offence of the utmost gravity in a sport that demands unquestioning compliance with infantile bonding rituals.

Meanwhile, Australian rugby player Kurtley Beale was sent home in disgrace from South Africa and will seek counselling, a profession much in demand by sports show-ponies, after punching his captain and another team mate. A penitent Beale, showing an admirable command of 21st century psycho-babble, said he sometimes made “bad choices”. It seems grown men don’t behave like petulant four-year-olds; they simply make bad choices.

In rugby league, former Canberra Raiders star Josh Dugan was accused of “inappropriate behaviour” – another way of saying he made bad choices – after engaging in a profane tirade against a Raiders fan on a social media website. Such forums offer endless opportunities for sports stars to make fools of themselves, enabling them to indulge in impulsive, sub-literate rants that are immediately picked up and plastered over the sports pages.

There was a Twitter-driven uproar in cycling, too, when Slovakian rider Peter Sagan pinched the bottom of a “podium girl”. Personally I find it more offensive that sports promoters still insist on having winners kissed by mini-skirted young women, a tradition that deserved to die decades ago.

Then there was the biggest sports soap opera of them all. Tiger Woods, we’re told, has found love again, this time with Olympic champion downhill skier Lindsey Vonn (she’s blonde, of course). Vonn told the Denver Post that she’s very happy. Now where have we heard that line before?

You have to hand it to those scriptwriters. Day after day, they come up with compelling new plotlines. It’s a dull day when the sports pages are filled with nothing but sport.

They overstepped the mark, though, with Jesse Ryder. The life-endangering assault on him showed these things can get seriously out of hand.

The public appetite for stories about flawed sporting heroes makes celebrities of people like Ryder. That puts them at risk – the more so if they lack the instinct to avoid potentially troublesome situations. Inevitably they attract the attention of feral men who want to prove themselves by giving the bash to someone famous.

Perhaps the vicious assault on Ryder is a timely warning to dial back the soap opera and focus on the sport.

* * *
WHAT IS IT about the parliamentary press gallery’s love affair with Labour MP Shane Jones?

His recent return to the parliamentary front benches was treated as a comeback of messianic proportions. He’s routinely referred to as one of Labour’s most capable MPs. Even National-aligned blogger David Farrar describes him as incredibly talented, though adding that he’s “notoriously lazy and sloppy”.

But these are insiders’ views. Outside the hothouse that is parliament, Mr Jones is chiefly known for two things: spending taxpayers’ money on pornographic films and arousing suspicion over his handling of a citizenship application from a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur.

These are hardly like to commend him to the public. I can only conclude that the press gallery has been seduced by what Tracy Watkins, the Dominion Post’s political editor, describes as Mr Jones’  charm and self-deprecating wit.

* * *

IS IT JUST me, or is the fuss over supposed breaches of privacy getting a bit hysterical?

Night after night, I watch breathless TV news items in vain for evidence of anyone having been seriously disadvantaged or put at risk. All I see is a lot of contrived outrage over vague allegations that people’s rights have been abused in some undefined, unquantified way. Exactly what harm has been done, if any, is never explained.

On One News, a Dunedin woman was interviewed with her face melodramatically hidden, as if she were in imminent danger of being murdered by Mexican drug traffickers.

Good grief. All that had happened was that she received a letter from the Ministry of Health that was intended for someone else. No intimate personal details had been disclosed but nonetheless she told the reporter she was “very shocked” – was she coached to say that? – and “didn’t know what to do”.

Granted, government agencies need to be more careful about protecting information. But I can think of far more serious issues to huff and puff about.





Bill Forster said...

'A penitent Beale, showing an admirable command of 21st century psycho-babble, said he sometimes made “bad choices”.'

I was laughing out loud in the cafe the other day as I read this. Nice work Karl.

Vaughan said...

I have noticed that a regular device sports stars use to excuse inexcusable behaviour are the words:

"I am disappointed..."

It is though the person is not really to blame for their appalling behaviour and that their high hopes for themselves have unaccountably come to grief.