With the recent news regarding All Black Aaron Smith, involved in a tryst with a woman in a disabled public toilet, the exploits of sportsmen raises it’s ugly head again. Poor behaviour by sportsmen [and sportswomen] affect a wide range of sports across the globe. Last Word On Sports asks the question “So Who Has Been a Naughty Boy?”

Rugby fans tend to think of their sport as being lily white. Players with good morals, values and impeccable public behaviour. While not exactly reflective of all views, rugby has a more clean-cut appearance compared to Rugby League, Football, NBA or MMA.

Aaron Smith latest example

Comparable examples are plentiful–but first, the facts to date: Aaron Smith was the starting halfback for the New Zealand All Blacks. A Rugby World Cup winner, he has had a successful career in black, along with the 2015 Super Rugby winning Highlanders and with New Zealand (NZ) Rugby as a whole.

Incidents of poor judgement have surrounded his behaviour though. A not-so-flattering nude selfie flourished on social media. Embarrassed in 2014, when already in a relationship he set up a liaison with infamous stripper Lisa Lewis. Promptly dumped by his girlfriend, and earlier in 2012, after being late for a team meeting, he was pulled at halftime in a Test match as punishment.

Now in this latest incident, the 27-year-old has been stood down for one All Blacks match (v South Africa) and returned home to a maelstrom of negative media attention. An NZ Rugby misconduct hearing will take place this week [to be confirmed] where the player’s behaviour, actions and any subsequent disciplinary measures will be decided.

In relation to historical events, this is a very public issue that could see the players career go ‘down the toilet’.

So Who Has Been a Naughty Boy

While Smith will face his employer on disciplinary charges, the public furore is more damaging than ever. Compounded by recent news of the Chiefs Super Rugby franchise handling of the team independently hiring a stripper. The incident repeated one in 2015, which the franchise could not manage. NZ Rugby became involved and every member of the team were given a blackmark against their record.

The damage from incidents like this is not limited to New Zealand teams. On tour in 2008, four England rugby players were reprimanded for their involvement in a sexual encounter with a lap-dancer. Reports claim two of the players had sex with the 18 year old, with all four in the room at the time–no charges were laid by the NZ Police, but the players reputations were scored permanently.

Claims like this are not limited to Rugby. It’s blue collar cousin Rugby League is no saint when it comes to sex scandals. Acclaimed played Matthew Johns was disgraced when a group-sex scandal involved him in a 2002 pre-season tour in Christchurch, NZ. Johns and 11 other rugby league players had claims made against them on national television by a hotel worker.

The details were lurid, but the resulting negative publicity cost Johns in multiple contracts being void. And this is where reputation can be impacted, personal relationships rocked (see Smith) and lucrative contracts tarnished. That aspect is what NZ Rugby must act on now–a conflict of interests through their multi-million dollar sponsorship, which might see Smith removed from advertising or promotion.

Guilt by association

Today, professional sport is a billion-dollar industry. Public association with sports teams/people and product endorsement brings money into sports organizations. Imagine the damage to the marketability of a team when your spokesperson becomes the subject of negative news stories. Resulting publicity may see a major sponsor act to protect their reputation.

Acting CEO of the NZRFU Steve Tew, left, chairman Jock Hobbs and Adidas New Zealand manager Craig Lawson, Adidas has signed onto the NZRFU until 2011. (Photo by Ross Setford/Getty Images)

NZ Rugby have several major sponsors, so implications could follow for the commercial rights and marketing. Companies like AIG, Adidas (see picture), Gatorade, Air New Zealand, Ford and a number of companies will all want assurance that their brand is not adversely affected. One act can have a follow-on effect. The question is asked “So Who Has Been a Naughty Boy” and how will that affect our brand?

Matthew Johns felt it personally, but professionally it could mean the end of a career. Unrelated to any sex scandal, All Black Keith Murdoch was involved in a late night incident with a security guard while on tour. Back in 1972, the the All Blacks management made a knee-jerk reaction and handed Murdoch a return ticket home–that he never made it back to NZ has become folklore.

In 2016, social media interest is 1000 times more intense. A story can quickly escalate. Lamar Odom was involved in a particularly high-profile event in 2015 that went viral. His apparent overdose while in a brothel led to ridicule, negative publicity and embarrassment for his basketball club. The fallout is still being felt by him personally and professionally.

Scandal not limited to men

Usually you would associate a sex scandal with men. This is not entirely true always. Some examples include female athletes whose actions, or often their treatment by others, causes scandal. From allegations of sexual assault within the US Swimming team, to individual sports woman having personal nude photos unlawfully shared on the Internet.

So who is a naughty girl
Suzy Favor-Hamilton of the United States sitting during the Women’s 1,500M Event for the IAAF World Championships Credit: Stu Forster /Allsport

One of the most shocking affected US track runner Suzy Favor Hamilton. In an ABC News 20/20 item, she revealed how she competed as a sports woman by day, then acted as a female escort by night. Her secret alter ego as Vegas call girl ‘Kelly Lundy’ was made public. Favor Hamilton, 47, who suffers from bipolar disorder, said she was previously misdiagnosed and placed on medication that affected her personality.

“I know for a matter of fact I would never have become an escort if I wasn’t on the drug that made me hypersexual. There’s no way possible,” Favor Hamilton said. “But I also know that I was having sex for money. So when I say that it was the bipolar’s fault I’m not pinning it on bipolar and looking at that as the excuse,” she told 20/20.

Names affected by scandal

Alex Rodriguez, Boris Becker, John Terry, Ingrid Oliveira, Dennis Rodman, Michael Vick, Tony Parker, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Mike Tyson are names synonymous now with scandals that have impacted on their careers. Some have gone on to great heights, as success overshadows those actions.

Some, Vick especially, have not completely recovered and have been penalized in the public eye, as well as incarceration for their crimes. His career will always be tied with the dog-fighting scandal, and disrupted public opinion thereafter. Currently a free agent, his options are much more limited, due to the scandals that surround his behaviour off the field.

If tomorrow, Aaron Smith were selected for the All Blacks to play Australia, opinion might be divided. Sportstalk radio has discussed this, with some saying his single game suspension was sufficient. Others say that a ban is required. Last Word On Rugby believe that the organisation is strong enough to survive, but such a recent event will need more time before the player might be accepted back publicly.

Will Smith be picked by the All Blacks?

Assistant coach Ian Foster says that the team would welcome him back into the fold. This reporter assumes that the CEO Steve Tew will want to have full closure on this situation, before Steve Hansen can name Smith as part of the team to play Australia on October 22.

He is word class, maybe the most influential halfback beside Will Genia. In the NZ game, he is celebrated: claiming the Tom French Memorial Moari Player of the Year award in 2014. But his behaviour was reported world-wide. That association is still fresh in the mind, so the distraction for the individual and to the team culture would be too large to ignore.

In time, he will return–the end of year tour maybe a good period to blood new players, while Smith works on his personal relationships back at home.

If you ask a sports fan “So who has been a naughty boy?” the list of names comes easily to mind. The actions of players off the field can transcend both sport, and the career of that individual. Often the actions of a few, impacts of the reputation of a player, team or ultimately, a Sport.

“Main photo credit”


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