Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Campese: jabbing at a legend

Let's get things straight right away here: David Campese is the greatest rugby player I ever saw. He may be the greatest footballer of any code I ever saw.
He seemed to be in possession of secrets that human beings were not privy to when on the rugby field.
Once I saw him scoop up a bouncing kick to dive over for a try, and I swear to god that when I watched the replay, his fingers weren't even touching the ball as he picked it up - it looked like he'd just drawn the ball to himself with magnets.
I remember his legendary no-look pass to Tim Horan in the 1991 World Cup semi, but I also remember, in the same match, Campo dancing merrily across the field before the fearsome line of All Blacks, mesmerising them like a magician keeping a child's eyes fixed on his right hand while his left plucks a coin from behind their ear, until he found the gap and zipped through the baffled kiwis for the try.
I remember him belting drop goals from the sideline fifty metres out, and scything through the defensive line in a Barbarians match so exquisitely that the beaten defenders stood and clapped as he touched down between the posts.
Alan Jones once called him the Bradman of rugby, and for once Jones may have been right.
Campese didn't have Bradman's remorseless perfectionism, but he did have the magic; the air that he was simply existing on a different plane to other players. He was magnificent, and nothing can ever change that.
But all that does not inoculate him against saying, on the odd occasion, pretty dumb things, and the tweet he tapped out expressing his outrage that the Sydney Morning Herald was letting a "girl" cover rugby fits into the "pretty dumb" category so snugly it might have been made for the purpose.
It was dumb not just because the "girl" in question, Georgina Robinson, is a well-qualified, accomplished and respected journalist (although she is, and that IS dumb): it's dumb because formulating a thought like "girls can't understand rugby like men" is just a dumb thing to do.
I'm pretty sure we've passed the stage in Western civilisation where we all assume that women's brains are defective, so I have no idea what mechanism someone like Campo thinks would prevent a female from reporting effectively on rugby.
Does oestrogen block the brain's ruck receptors? Do women miss vital scrum penalties because they get distracted by their own breasts? Who knows?
So that was dumb. And to his credit, Campese has written on The Roar that he regrets his wording.
He shouldn't have included the "girl" schtick, he says, which is all good. But that article there reveals a deeper issue, and a broader problem with Campo's attitude.
It's clear that the reason he objects to Robinson's work, and wants Greg Growden back, is that Robinson has not been getting "stuck into the real issues" - and for Campese, the "real issues" are that Robbie Deans is a hopeless failure and needs to be sacked, if not actually horse-whipped, with all possible speed.
What he is saying is, if Robinson does not spend her time slamming the Wallabies coach, she's not doing her job. And therein lies the problem.
Because Mr Campese, with all due respect, a rugby journalist's job is to report on rugby. Perhaps it may involve some analysis, and on occasion, even opinion. But one thing a rugby journalist's job does NOT entail is "agreeing with everything David Campese says".
Georgina Robinson may agree with you about Deans, or she may disagree, or she may think it's not the most pressing issue right now. But the main thing to note here is: she is not there to help you pursue your anti-Robbie campaign.
Campo, take this to heart: yours is not the only opinion worth listening to, and other members of the media bear no responsibility to form a chorus to back you up.
This is the problem with sports punditry: there is an assumption that the greater the player, the wiser the head and more worthwhile the opinion.
That's why Channel Nine stacks its commentary team with legends of the game, and keeps them on for decades no matter how stale they're getting.
But you're unlikely to find many viewers who believe Mark Nicholas to be a much worse commentator than Ian Healy, despite the latter's possession of 395 more Test dismissals than the former.
I'd rather read Greg Baum's opinion on cricket than Rodney Hogg's, and I get more enlightened listening to Harsha Bhogle than Sunil Gavaskar.
The point is, great players MAY make great thinkers, but not necessarily. Someone lacking great talent may be brilliant when analysing a sport, and someone with enormous ability can be a complete twit.
In fact, often genius sportspeople end up making fools of themselves when commenting on the game because of their genius: the ease with which the game came to them makes it impossible for them to understand how it can look so difficult for less gifted individuals. That's why the link between footballing ability and AFL coaching credentials is, at best, tenuous.
The point is not that Campese is right or wrong about Deans: the point is that being Campese doesn't make him right, and Georgina Robinson's not toeing his line doesn't make her incompetent.
As you yourself wrote, Mr Campese, "she’s doing her job", and while you may not like the way she's doing it, you don't get to define "being a journalist" as "writing stuff that David Campese wants you to write" or "attacking people who David Campese doesn't like" or "bowing to Campo's vast reservoir of rugby wisdom".
If you disagree with what anyone writes - Georgina Robinson, Ben Pobjie, or Ernest Hemingway - go ahead and make your case.
With any luck the strongest argument will prevail. But don't go around claiming that someone is completely unqualified to comment on the game because their opinions don't align with yours - or worse, because they're a "girl". I think we're better than that, aren't we?
The pinnacle of my rugby career remains playing for the Parramatta Under-17s. And I still recall the thrill of meeting David Campese that same year, and getting his autograph on my copy of his autobiography.
I'm pretty sure that even now he could still outrun me in a 50-metre dash to the tryline.
But being a legend doesn't stop you being wrong, and it doesn't mean you should go around ripping into all us little non-legends who might see things differently to you.
That just isn't how it works, off the rugby field. Out here, our brains count more than our feet, and it can benefit us all to remember to switch them on before addressing the world.


Doug Quixote said...

The man they called "Nobody" was the man.

John Eales : "Nobody", because Nobody's perfect.

Scott Burchell said...

The man was the Michael Jordan of Rugby. He was always a knob though.