Everyone deserves a second chance.
So thought the documentary-makers behind ‘Weiner’, a fly-on-the-wall account of US politician Anthony Weiner’s fall from grace.
A progressive, crusading Congressman, Weiner’s career nose-dived in 2011 when he accidentally tweeted an image of his erect penis clad in murky grey boxers. He initially insisted he had been hacked, then admitted the photo was intended for a woman with whom he was in private contact, and when more images and illicit phone messages were uncovered, Weiner was forced to resign his Congress seat.
The documentary picked up the story in 2013 as he launched his campaign for New York Mayor, setting out as the tale of a man rebuilding his reputation after very public shame. Weiner claimed rehabilitation, the support of his wife Huma Abedin – one of Hilary Clinton’s closest aides – and the desire to fight for the people of New York. And as he streaked ahead in the polls for the mayoral election it seemed that the public were prepared to offer him that second chance.
That is until the emergence of another slew of lewd images sent under the pseudonym ‘Carlos Danger’, coming after he claimed to have put his willy-snapping days behind him. The documentary captured the collapse of his electoral support, his reputation, and his marriage in gripping detail.
The message – other than the fact that you really shouldn’t send pictures of your private bits to random strangers if you are running for public office – is that second chances come with conditions. Things like honesty and openness, for example. It turned out that it wasn’t the pictures of Weiner’s nether regions that bothered voters, so much as all the lying.
Though there have been no photos of gentlemen’s unmentionables flashed in our direction this week, the sports fans of Ireland are in much the same position as the New York electorate. Munster fans have been asked to give Gerbrandt Grobler a second chance after his two-year doping ban, while Ireland soccer supporters must welcome Martin O’Neill back into their hearts after his Stoke City flirtation.
In Grobler’s case there has been plenty of sympathy for the man caught in the middle of the maelstrom. Those objecting to the criticism of his signature point out that he has served his time and should be free to carry on with his life. This is true, and it is perhaps Grobler’s misfortune to have moved to a country with a strong anti-doping emphasis in its media, where being anything less than hardline on the subject makes you risk being seen as a hand-wringing Neville Chamberlain figure.
But Munster and the IRFU have brought the smiting hammer of the anti-doping zealots on themselves. Maybe announcing the signing of Grobler the day before the third Lions test – when most rugby correspondents were on the other side of the world, knee-deep in blood-curdling preview pieces – was completely accidental. The cynic might say it smacks of the memo sent around New Labour government departments on September 11, 2001, suggesting that it might be a good day to bury bad news.
When the story eventually hit the headlines, the standard approach of Irish officialdom to difficult issues – a wall of silence – applied. So days went by without comment from on high, with Munster players and coaches forced to defend a decision they had no responsibility for. Perhaps it was only the condemnation of Donal Lenihan, the sport’s moral conscience, a sort of venerable Morgan Freeman figure in Irish rugby, that forced Munster to make a public statement on the matter and IRFU chief executive Philip Browne to accept even a modest cock-up had occurred.
The offer of a second chance to Grobler depends on whether we believe he deserves one. Is he contrite? Is he prepared to talk about his experiences as a discouragement to others? Could he potentially help reverse some of the damage done to Irish rugby by telling his story? Interviews that have emerged from his time at Racing suggest he might, but Munster and the IRFU showed no signs of viewing the player as anything other than a 6 foot 5 inch piece of meat. Their silence may have been intended to protect him, but instead left him as a sitting duck.
As Philip Browne was explaining the IRFU’s position on Grobler at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday, John Delaney was close by giving the FAI’s side of the Martin O’Neill saga. Ultimately it was all fairly plausible. Despite having told us that they had agreed a new contract in October, the defeat to Denmark had been so shocking to manager and association that both needed a bit of time to think about what the future held. O’Neill was permitted to keep his options open, thus explaining the dalliance with Stoke.
Essentially, this was the Ross and Rachel defence. We were on a break!
Quite why neither FAI nor manager thought any of this was worth explaining to the Irish soccer public at any stage in the two months since the play-off, and particularly during the farcical days of Stoke’s interest, can only come from the same place as Munster’s reticence to front up about Grobler. Supporters are there to buy tickets and merchandise, to travel at great expense and sing lusty support of their team. They don’t need to be told things or explained what’s being done in the name of the team they love. Shut up and pay up, ya big eejits.
So we’re not really sure if Martin O’Neill is committed to the Ireland job or still looking around for a better gig. Or whether Gerbrandt Grobler’s story is a salutary tale in the battle for clean sport or an example to those who see a convicted doper enjoying the spoils of a professional career and think it might be worth a try. But still we’re being asked to offer second chances.
‘Weiner’ ends with images of the disgraced politician cracking jokes as a panellist on TV chat shows. The inference is that you can bounce back from almost anything. But subsequently he was found to have sent explicit messages to a minor, a crime for which he is currently serving a prison sentence.
Second chances come at a price.
The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):