In case you hadn’t heard, Sonny Bill Williams made his return to 15-a-side rugby last weekend. In case you hadn’t heard, he taped over a BNZ logo on what sometimes passes for a collar.
In case you hadn’t heard, this has provoked a lot of outrage. Some of it has raised legitimate concerns, but a lot of it has been really strange.
For example, when the PM, known for making decisions based on religious beliefs weighs in on a person making a stand based on religious beliefs the situation gets complicated.
It defines a decent society that a sportsperson is able to make a statement due to conscientious objection reasons. Williams is to be applauded for having the courage of his convictions to do so, but it’s not straight forward.
The SBW Factor
This is Sonny Bill Williams; of Canterbury Bulldogs, Toulon, Crusaders, All Blacks, Roosters, Kiwis, boxing, Panasonic, Counties-Manukau, Chiefs, All Blacks, boxing, All Black Sevens and now Blues fame. It’s complicated.
That’s right; he played for a team called the Crusaders.
Rightly or wrongly, this perceived lack of allegiance means that a lot of people will always treat him with suspicion. Any action attracts more criticism than it should.
Some have pointed out that Michael Jones, a truly great All Black, never played on a Sunday due to his religious beliefs. That is a good point, although that was always a factor in his career. People had warning, and that seems to be a factor in play here.
This is where Williams is at his most vulnerable. He has made a statement, and fair play to him, but it goes against the grain that it would appear the Blues were blindsided by it. His manager is a smart and experienced guy; that was not a mistake.
While it is true this is a new take on things from Williams, there is no issue in that in itself. People develop stronger beliefs as they grow older. 1970 All Black tourist Chris Laidlaw would later become a passionate anti-Apartheid protester.
They are now very aware of that stance (remembering Jesus wasn’t big on money lenders either) and Williams would have known that taking that stance it would raise awareness. Sadly, however, this has not been a great 48 hours for talkback radio.
And all the normal suspects have jumped in without bothering to look at the bigger picture.
Williams’s beliefs are equally as valid is as that of Jones.
Sponsors are a huge part of professional sport. As it happens, this has been gold for BNZ. They have dealt with the situation with real corporate grace.
In the short term, however, you could argue they have been the real winners. On Saturday afternoon few people knew what logo was on the mini-collar at the Blues, or any other Super Rugby team.
Digging a hole
Taking a moral stand is all good, but Williams / Nasser need to be careful here. For example what will happen when Williams next plays at a place called Westpac Stadium, and there’s the AIG elephant in the room.
We await their promised clarification later in the week.