Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The free spirit of young men

I've devoted many recent paragraphs to sinking the boot into badly behaved rugby players, and now I unexpectedly fine myself feeling (slightly) sorry for Jimmy Cowan. With three charges of disorderly conduct against him, following three drunken incidents in Dunedin and Invercargill, Cowan is lucky to have retained his spot in the ABs. He attended a New Zealand Rugby Union misconduct hearing yesterday, and was told he's on his last warning. If he's to continue as an All Black, he must give up drinking, attend alcohol counselling and pay a $3000 fine. A chastened Cowan emerged from his hearing, and seemed to concede that he has a drinking problem, saying, 'This is my problem, nobody else's. And ah . . . I'm following the process now of taking steps to fix this'.

None of these punishments seem too harsh to me, given how objectionable Cowan has made himself. It's refreshing to hear the NZRU treat alcohol-related misbehaviour seriously, and an improvement on its woeful response to the rape of an 18 year old woman by English players. The fine given Cowan is, of course, punitive, but the other conditions recognise the fact that the guy appears to have a drinking problem and needs some support.

Sadly, the NZRU's attempts to treat alcohol-related misbehaviour seriously have been undermined by Murray Mexted. TV3 interviewed Mexted, in his capacity as an idiot, the day before Cowan's NZRU hearing. Mexted was irritated about Cowan's recent, third arrest in Invercargill: he asked, do we really want to suppress 'the free spirit of young men'?

It's hard to know where to begin exploring the sheer wrongness of Mexted's comment. Apparently, making the streets feel unsafe and unpleasant for others is some sort of natural right for young men – or at least for young men who play rugby at high levels. I have a feeling that if I, as a thirty-two year old mother, got drunk and caused trouble outside a bar, it wouldn't be looked on as harmless hi-jinks, by Murray Mexted or anyone else. It seems that some people still have cultural permission to binge drink and misbehave; or, if we don't exactly give permission, we're prepared to cut certain young men a lot of slack for their 'harmless' antics. It's much easier for ALAC to produce an ad suggesting Lisa is raped because of her drinking than it would be for them to oppose the likes of Murray Mexted. Would ALAC dare to take on a cultural icon, or will it continue to choose easier targets – people like drunk young women whom NZ society is more comfortable being critical of?

Almost immediately after screening Mexted's drivel, TV3 ran an item about a group of nine year old boys smoking cannabis at school. According to this item, alcohol and drug education is now required for primary school age children. Following on from Mexted's making light of a celebrated All Black's drunken misbehaviour as 'the free spirit of young men', the irony was almost too painful. There was no commentator on hand to suggest that alcohol and drug use are part of the carefree joys of childhood.

By exempting Cowan from the behavioural standards that apply to everyone else, Mexted was ultimately harming the young All Black. If Cowan does have a drinking problem – if he's risking his career, health and friendships, as those with alcohol dependencies do – then, despite his recent poor behaviour, he deserves some measure of compassion and support. Having what may be a serious problem downplayed as hi-jinks is surely the last thing Jimmy Cowan needs.


ms. poinsettia said...

Even as I felt sympathy for Cowan I felt irritation with the NZRFU's inconsistency. In the weekend I read on Stuff ( about various sports unions response to the alleged rape. All of the union representatives waffled on about the need for players to protect themselves from 'rugby groupies' etc. It just made me so angry! If such comments were explicitly tied to the Angel Barbie angle of a woman sleeping with a football player and selling her story, there is a point to make there. But when the article explicitly references 'rape allegations' and you have the All Blacks manager prattling on about needing to watch out for rugby groupies, it just totally reflects the belief that women are responsible for being raped. The issue in this case is not whether the woman is a groupie but that she alleges that the English players forced her to have sex against her will.

I think that draconian rules such as the English team have introduced about players not bringing women back to the hotel treat the players like children. They should encourage players to take responsibility for their actions - like the ABs are doing with Cowan and his drinking. However, faced with the spectre of rape allegations, the ABs' policy seems to revert back to blaming women rather than focusing on player behaviour.

#13baby said...

I have a feeling that if I, as a thirty-two year old mother, got drunk and caused trouble outside a bar, it wouldn't be looked on as harmless hi-jinks, by Murray Mexted or anyone else.

I have to disagree. When men see a young woman getting drunk and acting up they tend to view it as an opportunity to have sex they wouldn't otherwise be able to have due to lowered inhibitions. A drunk man is a potential rapist, and a drunk woman is a potential rape victim - which is all good from the point of view of rape advocates, which is why they try to encourage drunkeness so much.

Anonymous said...

I consider Murray Mexted's comments re Cowan's drink-related behaviour were very sexist and typical of someone with half a brain. I'm a moderate rugby fan and was very disappointed to see his views broadcast as a representative of the rugby sector. (As an aside...his commentaries at rugby matches are similarly lacking in intelligence and I wonder how he gets the job.) However, his response is indicative of the tolerance of binge-drinking in our fine country. The TV ad where the intoxicated driver in a car accident is subsequently shunned by his mates supports this tolerance. The passengers in the car aren’t expected to be responsible and remain sober enough so that they can determine the level of intoxication of their driver. The drink-driving ads make their point about the dangers of driving when drunk but they also condone other unhealthy social conditions.

The ex-expat said...

Thank you so much for posting on this! I remember watching that on TV and throwing something at it. Just as well my flat's tv is very old.

Anna McM said...

That comment from Murray Deaker in the Stuff article is disgusting. I think he should make a public apology.

Ari said...

Anna, have I mentioned how awesome you are recently? :)

It's not dangerous surliness, it's just good fun times, apparently. ><

Anna McM said...

You've made my day, Ari! I get so discouraged hearing people - and particularly high profile people - make these dehumanising comments about women. Glumness.