(First published in The Dominion Post, October 14.)
The tut-tutters who clucked their tongues over All Black Aaron Smith’s tryst in an airport toilet must have been startled by the number of voices raised in his defence.
The Mother Grundys were almost outgunned by Smith’s defenders, who recognised that this affair was different in vital respects from other recent furores involving delinquent rugby players.
Public outrage should be reserved for incidents that justify it, such as the vicious assaults perpetrated by the rising rugby star Losi Filipo.
Smith’s airport encounter involved no violence or coercion. As far as we know, the woman was a willing partner.
The incident also differed crucially from the Waikato Chiefs’ end-of-season revelry involving a stripper. Although the stripper appears to have been a consenting party, at least initially, she was a lone woman surrounded by men – big, intimidating men. It was hardly what you would call a level playing field.
So: Smith’s liaison involved no nastiness. And it was one-on-one – a case of two adults indulging in consensual behaviour behind a closed door. A victimless crime, in other words.
There was no public display and the only people entitled to feel offended were the disabled people queuing to use the dunny – except there weren’t any.
What made it unusual was the unconventional venue and the fact that one of the participants was an All Black wearing his touring uniform. This latter aspect might have made it an issue for New Zealand Rugby, but I fail to see how it was the business of anyone else, other than Smith’s unfortunate partner.
If anyone’s behaviour was questionable it was the tell-tale sneaks who, for goodness knows what reason, decided to dob Smith in.
That triggered what has now become a wearisomely familiar ritual in which New Zealand Rugby hit the apology button. Cue “role model” blah blah …. “made a bad decision” blah blah … “let himself down” blah blah.
Give us a break. Is there anyone apart from NZR and its risk-averse spin doctors who take these grovel-fests seriously?
Badly behaved sportsmen are an issue, certainly. The irony is that despite the hullabaloo over his supposed indiscretion, people like Smith are not the problem. He engaged with a female partner on equal terms. For that, you could almost call him a role model.
The Chiefs are another story entirely. There is something deeply disturbing about the dynamics of a group of men panting over a stripper.
I admit I don’t understand the weird pack mentality that makes men want to gang together to see a women get her clothes off. Are they so uncertain of their ability to deal with the opposite sex that the only way they can handle it is in a large group?
That’s how it looks. There’s a group male dynamic which, in its most benign form, manifests itself in Masonic lodges, where blokes band together for … what, exactly? I have no idea, but I suppose it’s harmless enough.
At the uglier end of the spectrum, you get stag parties like the Chiefs’ Mad Monday end-of-season pissup, where drunk males behave like dogs around a bitch on heat.
Take it a step further again, and you get pack rape. It’s all on the same spectrum.
Unattractive as it is, this group dynamic seems to be embedded in New Zealand male sporting culture. In the 2014 documentary The Ground We Won, the Reporoa rugby team celebrated their end of season by hiring a stripper, just like the Chiefs. It was not an unedifying spectacle.
Things are probably even worse across the Tasman, where rugby league players are regularly carpeted by the NRL’s integrity unit (rugby league and integrity - was there ever a more delicious oxymoron?) for gross behaviour at bucks’ nights, the Australian term for stag parties.
When I lived in Australia I was struck by the fact that many of my male workmates’ closest, most intimate relationships were with their male mates. Women were for breeding, cooking and looking after the kids. The less they intruded on the lives of their men, the better. Mercifully, the cult of mateship isn't nearly so marked over here.
And don’t get me started on the baboon Donald Trump. Here’s a man who appears to get a thrill from grabbing women’s private parts, which is something 12-year-old boys do in swimming pools. Most grow out of it, but Trump obviously never did.
There’s something seriously twisted about a man who appears to get pleasure from inflicting discomfort and humiliation on women. But then I suppose you could say much the same about one who enjoys pulling waitresses’ ponytails.