Hansen not all wrong on Reece
Canon Rugby in Focus: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made some valid points about the controversial selection of Sevu Reece.
Steve Hansen was wrong when he tried to dismiss the overwhelming prevalence of men assaulting women by saying women attack men too.
The pity is that the commotion it stirred up has meant some of his other points, good ones, have been overlooked.
This was a chance for the All Blacks coach to hammer home that rugby is simply a reflection of society, that sports teams are no different to school staff rooms, the Beehive, newsrooms, corporate offices and all work sites and social clubs.
Take a large enough sample of people and you will find a mix of strengths and weakness, good views and poor, racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, perverts and the perverted, and hopefully, a preponderance of people with their heads screwed on okay.
A casual reading of the daily news shows people from all walks of life end up before the courts, including those who have made a mistake and those who are simply bad.
Rugby is, was and always will be no different, despite what can seem an overwhelming desperation from some that rugby players be better than the rest of us.
Just because you can perform superhuman feats on a rugby field doesn’t make you a superhuman off it.
"Rather than asking the question 'why has rugby brought Sevu in and looked after him?', the question I'd ask is 'what would happen if we didn't'?”
- All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
In fact, the demands of elite sport and what it takes to be the best can often create people who are less than desirable to be around - and that’s not peculiar to either sex.
But it was needless for Hansen to bring up gender three times during a five minute monologue to me on radio, in response to a question about Sevu Reece’s selection in the All Blacks.
Reece was charged with assaulting a woman following an incident with his partner. He was discharged without conviction, fined $750 and suspended for a game in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Being discharged without conviction doesn’t mean Reece didn’t commit the assault or admit to it.
A discharge without conviction is simply a sentence that can be imposed.
Here’s how Judge Lance Rowe explains it on the district court's website.
“If a person pleads guilty to, or is found guilty of an offence, usually they are convicted of that offence. However, a judge still has discretion not to convict that person.
“This is granting a discharge without conviction. It means the defendant, although guilty of an offence, will have no criminal record.”
Reece had a contract to play in Ireland ripped up, but was eventually thrown a lifeline by the Crusaders, where he enjoyed a superb season and, from a rugby perspective, earned his place in the All Blacks.
There are some who feel Reece’s past should colour his future and that he has no right to be wearing black on a rugby field.
The Herald’s Chris Rattue said Reece deserved “a longer sentence, in rugby terms, than what has occurred”.
He didn’t stipulate how long.
RNZ’s Hamish Bidwell said Reece’s selection meant “we're turning a blind eye to behaviour we wouldn't ordinarily accept, because the person is a talented player”.
Hansen, if you can ignore his comments on gender, says what we all know.
Domestic violence is a serious problem in New Zealand, and is perpetuated because (mostly men) copy what they see as children.
“And if they don't get the right support and they don't get the right help, then they end up going down a path that we don't want them to,” Hansen said.
“So when you look at this particular case, rather than asking the question 'why has rugby brought Sevu in and looked after him?', the question I'd ask is 'what would happen if we didn't'?”
John Banks, when he was Minister of Police, used to say that a boy in sport was a boy out of court, and I get what he meant.
It’s the same as the old saying that idle hands do the devil’s work.
Keep kids busy and they will stay out of trouble. Most of the time.
Equally, I’ve always felt that kids in sport are more rounded. They meet people from all walks of life and, hopefully, are more tolerant of others as a result.
Sadly there are obvious exceptions to this with Israel Folau the most glaring of late.
It is important to note that Reece has done what has been asked of him off the field including apologising to his partner at a restorative justice meeting and attending counselling.
So put aside Hansen’s gender mistake and consider a very simple question. When do we move on?
This is not an attempt to condone or to minimise what Reece did. But when will it be acceptable for Reece to look to the future without being anchored to his past?
For some, that will never happen, but for most there will come a time when Reece is afforded the same rights as anyone who has made a mistake and apologised for it.
Hansen’s comments on gender were off-piste and some have called him out on that. Deservedly so.
But he also made a lot of sense with some of his other thoughts.
"I would challenge people to say he could be a role model,” Hansen said.
“He can actually be a role model to change, for change and to give others who have had a similar experience in their younger lives, hope that they can do it a different way. And we can break the cycle of domestic violence.”
Now that, surely, is something we can all agree on.
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.