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No pills for stupidity

I hesitate to write this column because I fear it may take me to the borderline of being guilty of the very sin that is being targeted. The media knee-jerk reaction to every movement or utterance made by Luke Watson, or against Luke Watson, surely went out of vogue about three or four years ago, or even longer.

It has also long been my stance that if spectators pay good money to go to stadiums to watch rugby matches, they have a right to voice their displeasure about something. That’s why the so-called Cape Crusaders, when their support for their chosen team is no more than vocal, do not bother me as much as they appear to bother others.

They want to support another team? So what? If you want silence on a Saturday afternoon head to your local duck pond with a tin of scones, a jar of jam and someone sweet and don’t go to the rugby.

So let me slap my own wrist for doing what I am about to do. It’s just that I can’t help myself in this instance as the boorish behaviour of sections of our rugby crowds to Watson does make my blood boil as it is symptomatic of a mentality that partially explains my reluctance to be part of the Twitter craze or to read internet talkback forums where fanaticism and, way too often, just blind hatred seems to outweigh intelligence and common sense.

Former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers never said a truer thing than when he pointed out that there are no pills you can take for stupidity. And make no mistake, Watson will probably be the first to acknowledge that he was pretty stupid himself five or six years ago with the way that he said things.

I struggled with Watson back then and there were probably times when I was among his harshest critics. This archive for this column will bear out that contention. He was a divisive influence in 2006, 2007 and parts of 2008, there can be no denying that. He had a right to his views, it was just the undiplomatic way those views were sometimes expressed that many people had a problem with.

As for the decision to foist him onto Jake White as unwanted player No 46 when a World Cup training squad was announced in 2007, that was probably the most idiotic of a long line of questionable decisions made by South African rugby administrators since international readmission in 1992.

But Watson didn’t make that decision and he has subsequently admitted that he didn’t enjoy the experience and saw himself as a pawn in a political game. He admits now that he was wrong to go along with it. He admits now that he was wrong about a long line of things.

Being the son of political activist Cheeky Watson could not have been easy, and it wasn’t until he left his home country to take up a contract with English club Bath that Watson got to experience what life would be like if his social interactions and contacts with people weren’t overridden by the extreme emotions that his family’s position evoke in people.

When I interviewed him for SA Rugby Magazine in 2010 he had been with Bath for 18 months and I could immediately pick up the difference in him over the phone. He was more relaxed, less strident in his speech, much more personable than he had ever been before.

When I pointed this out to him he was as honest, frank and humble about where he had been and the mistakes he had made as any player or personality I have ever interviewed. His stint at Bath had matured him, and it wasn’t necessary for him to point that out – it was evident in everything he said. He had made mistakes, he said, and he was sorry about that.

Since then he has made those points again and again to other journalists and media organisations, he has apologised to those who objected to his comments about the Springbok jersey and his sorrow for what he was alleged to have said about Afrikaners is sincere and genuine.

And yet there are still people who refuse to listen, who don’t want to listen, or who just feel they will have too much of a gap in their empty lives if they didn’t have someone to hate. When I read or hear people talking about Watson being a divisive influence I know I am listening to or reading people who are at least three or four years out of date.

People who still see Watson as divisive probably need him to be. If you’ve read and listened to his humility in admitting to past mistakes you should surely have picked up that far from being a divider, Watson has the potential to be the exact opposite. Watson’s former incarnation as a divisive influence was years ago and it’s time to move on. There are no pills for stupidity, but willful ignorance is inexcusable.

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