6 Oct 2016

Time to flush away moral outrage over Smith

5:26 pm on 6 October 2016

Opinion - The moral backlash after All Black Aaron Smith was caught having sex in a public toilet needs to be put into perspective, writes Matt Richens.

All Black Aaron Smith

All Black halfback Aaron Smith Photo: PhotoSport

All Black halfback Aaron Smith is on his way back to New Zealand after footage of him entering a toilet cubicle with a female friend at Christchurch Airport last month was released today.

Smith has been suspended for one game and will miss Sunday morning's Rugby Championship test in Durban, but is what Smith did really that big a deal?

Is it really worth getting our knickers in a knot about, and is it worth giving him the social media equivalent of a public flogging over it?

Let's everyone calm down for a second and put this into perspective.

In the past few months, members of a Super Rugby team have been accused of sexual assault, while a promising young player assaulted four people in Wellington.

Smith just had consensual sex in a public toilet.

A saint he ain't, but to compare his behaviour to that of the un-named Chiefs who allegedly crossed several lines with a stripper at their Mad Monday celebrations, or a late-night attack on four people, is, well, bats**t crazy.

Depending on how straight your moral compass points, the biggest "crime" Smith committed was either cheating on his girlfriend, having consensual sex with a woman in a public toilet or bringing the All Blacks brand into mild disrepute.

None are crimes at all, and none deserve some of the public backlash he's received.

With social media and the ease at which we can all give our opinion, it seems we can go from zero to outraged very quickly now.

This seemed like an act of silliness or thoughtlessness, like an All Black having too much to drink in a public bar.

He didn't hurt anyone and if anyone genuinely believes he's the first New Zealand sportsperson to "play away", they're sadly mistaken.

How you feel about cheating is up to you, but in this case it's actually only the business of Smith, his loo-liaison and Smith's poor girlfriend, who gets to find out about this publicly and, through no fault of her own, has her private laundry aired for all to see.

In terms of the location of this toilet tryst, that's poor taste more than anything.

The fact it was close to the members of the public, and that people saw him not-so-surreptitiously sneak in there, is just a bit dumb. While it's classless, not a great look and an act that would no doubt have had New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew pulling any hair he has left out, is it that bad?

Like it or not, the All Blacks are role models so it's fair that they are held to a higher moral bar than the rest of us. But we can't expect them to be saints, with no room for minor errors of judgement.

Or is this hooplah just because this involved… heaven forbid… sex. Grow up, New Zealand.

If it worries you that these role models and their behaviour may affect the way your children grow up, parent them better and be a better role model yourself.

You're setting your children up for a massive fall if you're using one rugby team as their only role models.

As commentator Scotty Stevenson said on the matter today: "A society that thinks sports is its moral compass is already shipwrecked."

Use examples like Smith and his bog-buddy to teach them what you consider right from wrong, rather than jumping up and down and typing vociferously onto a comments section somewhere.

And if your moral compass is doing cartwheels over this, how do you feel about the fact Smith gets named and shamed while the recorder remains anonymous? He gets to have his urinal cake and eat it while Smith is thrown to the wolves.

To paraphrase a Steve Hansen quote, let's all just flush the airport dunny and move on.

* Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 10 years. The Christchurch-based sports nut is so red-and-black that his father used to feed him 'Canterbury Toast' - raspberry jam on one side and Marmite on the other. He also still knows all the words to 'Give It A Boot, Robbie'.

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