Steve Williams, perhaps New Zealand’s highest paid non-sporting athlete, drunk a little too much at a charity event the other day. Ended up calling Phil Mikelson a “prick“. He also relayed a particularly embarrassing story regarding Mickelson’s man boobs. When defending his statement Williams remained oddly cavalier, stating, “I don’t particularly like the guy myself. He pays me no respect at all and hence I don’t pay him any respect. It’s no secret we don’t get along, either.”
Switch tack to the Black Caps. Our good friend Craig McMillan has called Jacob Oram out for being “wrapped in cotton wool“. Oram latter delivered a terse response, like a refined character from a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel . “I understand people who have never bowled a ball in anger in their lives having a bit of a go at me for potentially being on the soft side, but it’s extremely disappointing to come from an ex-teammate,” he said. After which he sighed, took a sip of whiskey and turned his attention to the guests at the dinner party. Seems like a dark cloud has descended over the gentleman sports. I say, good show!
What’s more important, beyond the fact that Mickelson has man boobs, is that New Zealand athletes (traditionally of preternatural monosyllabic ability) are speaking their minds in alarmingly public and unabashed ways. I touched on this a month ago when discussing Graham Lowe’s remarks following the New Zealand league victory, but no matter how ugly the comments, hearing a players unedited, emotional and visceral response to their professional climate is something we miss in New Zealand.
For all’s its visual stimulants, one of the great pleasures of the NBA is getting to know players at a human level. Their personalities are not guarded by the NBA brand, they are embraced (or at least tacitly accepted) as a part of the wider narrative that makes the league so damn intriguing. Gilbert Arenas has a blog (see our MVP list for the link) in which it seems almost no editing takes place. Andrew Bynum has, or at least had, a comical myspace page. Numerous players have recorded records, most infamously Allen Iverson’s anti-gay hip hop tirade. Shaq and Kobe’s relationship resembles high class theatre – so much so that a pregame handshake between the two can symbolise some of the very basic elements of human drama – greed, regret, lust, comedy.
Perhaps I’ve reached too far. My point is this: sport is human drama. It is played in the context of human relationships. Far from taking away from the games we love, when athletes let their personalities out, the game is enhanced and the narrative of sporting history is strengthened.
I suspect passion for rugby is dwindeling in this country. I think a lot of it has to do with a reluctance to let individuals speak their mind and be responsible for their own legacy. We possess two of the most talented players ever seen in international rugby – Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. I’m yet to hear one interesting remark come out of their mouths. I have no idea what Dan Carter thinks of his coach and I don’t know what angers McCaw. I don’t know why they play rugby, other than that they are good at it. I don’t know how they feel when they lose and I don’t know why they want to win (apart from the official party line that they do it for the “jersey”). I’m sure Carter has some interesting thoughts, any player who developed late into his talent probably does.
So, what is the “jersey”? Unfortunately, the All Blacks have constructed the jersey as something that shrouds all, washing out individualism and quieting our differences. Much like the glory days of the old and powerful Hollywood studio, players serve the larger brand – what they say must speak to it and how they act must be in accordance to its wishes. I’m sure another post could articulate the essential communist nature of the All Blacks, but I’m afraid I’ll regret my intellectual wankery already.
Here’s my take on the All Blacks jersey. It’s the history of individual New Zealanders – farmers, lawyers, alcoholics, intellectuals – giving themselves to the pursuit of higher glory. The brand should serve the player, if only because it’s something we can understand at a human level. Each All Black should have their own legacy, not only as part of the team, but as something they have earned through individual will. Right now it’s not happening, and the game is poorer for it. Yes, we play a great game, but at a certain point I wonder if we lose the reason we are playing it at all. It’s for human drama, damn it.