There are a few subjects on which you can pontificate with confidence that you will be vindicated, or at least won’t be made to look a fool before the news cycle has run its course.
For instance, anyone who predicted there would be a feral reaction to Barack Obama’s gun control proposals from assorted gun nuts and Second Amendment fetishists was on pretty safe ground. And no one ever made themselves a laughing stock by cautioning that those who expect peace to break out in the Middle East any time soon are likely to be disappointed.
Hence I don’t expect a pat on the back even though within a matter of days of my suggesting that top-level men’s sport is synonymous with men behaving badly, one of our leading sportsmen went to some trouble to validate my proposition.
In late 2011 All Blacks wing Zac Guildford made the headlines by behaving spectacularly badly in Rarotonga. Having warmed up by harassing a female jogger and falling off his scooter, Guildford put on a performance that evoked the tamer scenes in Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, perhaps the most compelling account of men behaving badly ever written. He entered a nightclub drunk, bloodied and stark naked, punched one man for no apparent reason, tussled with a couple of others, bounded onto the stage to make an apology, then fled into the night in the company of five young women.
To my knowledge, no further light has been shed on that last detail, surely the most intriguing component of the whole drama.
It subsequently emerged that Guildford was already on notice from the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) as a result of similar, if less pyrotechnic, episodes. Following the freak-out in Rarotonga, it was almost mandatory and, for once, appropriate to say he was drinking in Last Chance Saloon.
Now Guildford’s back in both the headlines and the soup. At the time of writing, it was unclear what his offence was – although the usual suspects, grog and fisticuffs, have been mentioned – or whether he was about to be propelled through Last Chance Saloon’s batwing doors into an uncertain future.
For those who believe Guildford will never really confront his problems – Sir Graham Henry thinks he’s “probably an alcoholic” and there are murmurs that gambling is also an issue – until the NZRU forces him to do so, Steve Walsh is Exhibit A.
Although capable of giving the impression that he sincerely believed he was the most important person on the field, Walsh was nevertheless an international referee. But after a number of alcohol-related incidents, the NZRU washed its hands of him, meaning he could no longer ply his trade. Walsh went to Sydney, drove a taxi, sorted himself out and is back on the international referees roster for Australia.
It’s questionable whether Guildford has a similar path to redemption; for a start, he can’t play for another country.
Although there’s a case for tough love, it’s worth bearing in mind that most of Guildford’s indiscretions would be considered unremarkable if he wasn’t an All Black. Furthermore, he had the traumatic experience of having his 44-year-old father suffer a fatal heart attack while watching his son play in the 2009 under-20 World Cup final.
Guildford’s not the first young man to find the combination of overnight wealth and fame and the pressure of being an All Black hard to handle. He might well be the first to have to do so while trying to get over the shock and heartbreak of losing his father so unexpectedly.