Wednesday, 21 October 2015

An open letter to Tony Veitch

Dear Tony,

The current media storm you're at the centre of started when you made a comment about an incident in a rugby match which, if made by anyone else, very likely would have been viewed as a harmless observation on the referee's odd distinction between a 'punch' and a 'push with a fist'.   

I hadn't seen the meme until the controversy blew up but I think it's no more offensive than it was insightful or witty. 

However, some people - no doubt remembering the time when you made a clear distinction between a 'kick' and a 'push with a foot' - thought you were advocating or trivialising violence, and criticised you for it on your Facebook page. The details of your domestic violence conviction were circulated and much was said about your failure to take responsibility for your actions. The fact that you were widely perceived to have failed to 'own' your actions and to have blamed your victim is what has given this so much traction. 

You then posted an emotionally charged comment on your Facebook page attacking your critics and seeming to taunt them with your popularity and success, and you referred to the domestic violence as having occurred in the context of a 'hideous relationship'. It was an unfortunate choice of words. 

Social media - as it is wont to do - immediately split into warring factions. 

On one side are those who think that what you were charged with in 2009 wasn't your fault; it wasn't a serious assault; your ex-partner exaggerated her injuries; it was in the past and should stay there, and anyone who raises it now has a dodgy political agenda of some sort. 

On the other side, are those who see you as one of those men who say they're sorry for inflicting violence on their partner but whose subsequent conduct shouts the opposite, and who like to cast themselves in the role of a hapless victim of a scheming / unreasonable / mad / cheating / domineering woman. Take your pick of adjective. 

The upshot of it all is that you're back in the sort of spotlight you don't like -  one that's harsh, unflattering and too revealing.

I must confess that I never listen to you or read anything you write and never have; and, in terms of your work as a sports commentator or 'news personality', you seldom come up in the sorts of commentary I read or the conversations I have.  

But I had formed an opinion about you which predates your domestic violence conviction.  It's of course that infamous statement you made on radio about Serena Williams :

"Do you know where apes come from? She's a reminder."

That wasn't just racist, cruel and misogynistic -  it was also profoundly stupid.  It was even more stupid than your boss's claim - after he told you to apologise on air - that what you had said was 'not a racial slur.'   

This was the first time you got handed the career equivalent of a get out of jail free card.  

But, perhaps you learned from that. Perhaps you understood just how harmful and hurtful a statement like that is.  Perhaps you realised how very lucky you were that you worked for an organisation, and appealed to an audience which had a very high tolerance for that sort of grossly unprofessional and unpleasant behaviour. 

Or perhaps not.

Enough has been said about your domestic violence conviction without me revisiting it in detail apart from saying that a man who kicks a woman in the back when she's on the ground is giving vent to a depth of rage and contempt that says a great deal about him, and none of it good.

The fact that you were charged with recklessly injuring your partner instead of a more serious charge such as actual or grievous bodily harm was due to your celebrity and the considerable efforts that had been made to ensure that, in the court of popular opinion, you'd been found not guilty. It was the Kiwi equivalent of a plea bargain.  The dropping of most of the charges and your guilty plea to a lower order of offence than a less influential man would have faced, allowed you to continue to rebuild your life and to build your profile as a wronged man.

That was your second get out of jail free card - a more literal one that time.  Had you the wisdom and the heart to play it right you could have come up from it smelling sweet. But, there was always that hint of angry arrogance that makes some people doubt the authenticity of your public persona.

However, I firmly believe that, whatever the crime - if the person who committed it has faced up to what they did, wants to make amends and be a better person and citizen - they have the absolute right to live their lives without having their past used against them.  We don't have double jeopardy in our court system and nor should we have it in the court of social media.

A lot of your supporters profess to believe the same but I'd lay odds that many of those who shout loudest about your right to a second chance would happily deny that to others. I've no doubt that there would be certain sorts of crimes committed by certain sorts of people that many of your supporters would never forgive and that they would rub the perpetrator's face in their past whenever they had the chance, rejecting mitigating circumstances as 'PC nonsense', and self-righteously demanding maximum and on-gong retribution. 

In the interests of fairness, it must be said there are some like that among your critics as well. 

 In NZ the physical and emotional battering of women by men is as commonplace as it is indefensible. I don't expect you to speak out against domestic violence although it would be great if people like you used your considerable influence to such an end - recognising that the soil in which male violence against women and children grows is well watered by the run off from laddish, 'locker room' behaviour - that striving for one of the 50 shades of machismo - that is still prevalent in some parts of the sporting world and which flows into the consciousness and conduct of affluent and powerful men as well as poor and relatively powerless ones. 

Sometimes violent behaviour by men towards women has its roots in a personal insecurity and inadequacy.  Sometimes it occurs when a narcissist's sense of aggrandisement or entitlement has been challenged. Sometimes it's when power over women is an illusory compensation for a wider social and economic powerlessness. 

Whatever the root cause - it's of little comfort to the person who's on the receiving end.

If I tread on someone's foot and break it, even if I didn't mean to do it, and even if I say I'm sorry, it still hurts and it takes time to heal. 

If I tread on someone's foot and break it and I don't apologise, or my apology is insincere, or I blame the person for getting in my way, I add insult to injury and may delay healing. 

If I deliberately stamp on someone's foot and break it and then claim that - not only did they put their foot under mine but, in so doing, they caused me to hurt my foot and damaged my Italian shoes which cost me a lot of money, I can hardly complain if people call me a liar and a bully.

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