surely i'm not the only one who had never heard of benji marshall until his appearing in the news for allegedly [just for you, graeme] assaulting someone outside a macdonalds in sydney. normally, this is not the kind of thing i'm remotely interested in, but mr marshall is claiming that he was provoked through the use of racial slurs being hurled at him.
while mr marshall is being defended by some, while others think he needs to develop a better response to such a situation, one of the worst pieces i've read would have to be this one by steve deane:
That Kiwis captain Benji Marshall would put himself in a position to end up in a punch-up at McDonald's at 3am a week before the NRL season begins is a major surprise.
seriously? "put himself in a position"?? mr marshall isn't actually the victim here, although he is allegedly the victim of verbal abuse. he should not put in himself in a position to be abused? presumably this means he should not go out anywhere where he might come across a racist. i wonder how one could be sure of finding such a place. mr deane no doubt means that he just shouldn't go out. he certainly shouldn't go out onto a field of play, because from what i've heard, there's a lot of racist sledging that happens in sports matches, and he wouldn't want to put himself in a position to end up in a punch-up, right?
surely the proposition that anyone should be able to go anywhere at any time without being subjected to racial harassment is not a difficult or unreasonable one. it can't be so difficult to understand that mr marshall didn't put himself in any kind of position. it was the people who allegedly abused him who are fully responsible for their actions and who should be held responsible for them.
having said that, i don't actually have any time for mr marshall's response, being to allegedly punch someone in the face. i don't accept mr devlin's views (linked to above) that:
In the world where us boys live, Benji Marshall "being baited by a group of up to 10 people (allegedly) calling him a black cee and telling him to eff off back to NZ" would appear to have simply introduced some drunk thug to an age-old masculine concept called "got what you deserved".
If you'd prefer an attitude a little less caveman, then BM was acting in self-defence, protecting himself (and probably his friends) from a bunch of bullying cowards in circumstances that could've so easily spiralled into something way more serious.
this kind attitude really worries me. we already see a relatively large amount of (off-field) violence from male sportspeople. often this violence is targetted against women, and often we see the victim being blamed for provoking the violence against her. i totally agreed with the move in nz to remove provocation as a defence for violence, and i don't believe it's any kind of excuse here.
it could be said that the violent culture around support, and especially around various codes of rugby, provoked the racial outburst. plenty has been written about the need to have a strong, aggressive attitude in top-level competitive sport. image is crucial and the image cultivated by many in these sports is a tough and confrontational one.
i totally understand the dynamics of racism and bigotry. i know how it can wear a person down, when they have to suffer countless small incidents. i appreciate that tolerance levels can be stretched, and at some point a person will snap. there is a power structure around mr marshall which makes it almost impossible for him to deal effectively with racism within his sports code, on the field and in the locker room. trying to expose that culture and hold racists to account comes with significant consequences and could lead to him having to leave the sport if he persisited. i understand the feelings of powerlessness which would lead to him having a violent response in a particular situation where he did actually have some power to respond.
but the fact is that violence from our top-level athletes is too often excused, and not dealt with seriously. to excuse it in this case makes it so much easier to excuse it in others. to say that violence in this case is ok is to undermine other non-violent responses. it also encourages violence as a reasonable response to verbal abuse, which can only lead to an escalation in violence over the longer term.
mr marshall should not have to suffer racial abuse. the answer to that lies outside of his hands. until the leadership in his sports code takes a much stronger stance, until society and societal structures take a much stronger stance, it is very difficult for mr marshall to change the environment in which he lives as an individual. but it does need to be changed, both for the racism and the violence.
to deal with the latter, it is right that mr marshall be charged and if found guilty, face the consequences of his action. the question then remains: how to effectively deal with racial abuse and hold those who dish it out accountable for their actions? it needs to happen at all levels, within the sport and outside of it.