We're a fickle lot when it comes to judging others. Especially so in sport. Take the not-so-dissimilar, booze-related cases of cricketer Jesse Ryder and All Black Zac Guildford. The former, on the wagon for some time after a series of incidents, is being attacked for putting his health first and not making himself available for New Zealand. The latter? For having the temerity to hope he might one day play for New Zealand again.
To be fair, after the most recent incident, Guildford has a long way to go before he can ever entertain thoughts of another All Black call-up. Still, we should never say never. If Ryder's example is any guide, sportsmen and women with alcohol problems can turn their lives and careers around and earn re-consideration from the national selectors. Question is then: Do they actually want to go back? Do they want to risk all for the sake of sport?
Hopefully, Guildford will be studying Ryder's progress. Hopefully he'll have noticed the wave of public vitriol and condemnation the former Blackcap first attracted; the ultimatums and absolutes, the calls for him never to be picked again. Hopefully, he'll see how this criticism has been overwhelmed by the sound of people wanting to give Ryder another chance. That respect is still attainable for those prepared to face their demons.
True enough, no two cases of this sort of problem are the same. Having said that, Guildford could do a lot worse than consider Ryder's modis operandi. The potted story? He simply de-constructed his life and put it back together in a manner in which he could cope with an alcohol-free existence. Turned down a contract with New Zealand Cricket. Established new daily routines and patterns to sustain himself. Result? Hasn't had a drink for ages.
Ryder has surrounded himself with good advisers; in particular manager Aaron Klee and clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo. An important part of his rehab has been the decision to play some cricket (for Wellington and Indian IPL side, Pune) without exposing himself to the pressure and associated risk of the international game. The one thing Ryder is good at is cricket; that's where he feels best about himself. To have spurned it completely would've been counter-productive.
Maybe that's something Guildford might consider. Not that it comes easily, or cheaply. Ryder paid for Klee and Nimmo to accompany him to India during last year's IPL. His decision to not consider a central contract via NZC potentially cost him again. That, 12 months on, he still doesn't believe he's ready to recommit to the New Zealand team should tell us just how challenging he's finding the transition. And how seriously he's taking it.
That Ryder's being criticised for putting his health and safety ahead of the New Zealand cricket team's needs tells us everything we need to know about some people's sense of priorities. Same goes for those baying for blood over Guildford's indiscretions and demanding that he be thrown on the proverbial scrap heap; never to be given another opportunity. What a grim world they must wish to live in. So much for perspective.
New Zealand, in general, has a serious and escalating problem with alcoholism. Sports figures such as Ryder and Guildford, and others in the public eye simply represent the barest tip of the iceberg. And, as anyone with an awareness of the issue will tell you, those affected face a life-long process, a never-ending examination of their wits and will-power. Look around. Some of us are already well along that path. Some of us have yet to begin.
Whichever it is, though, we should always allow for a happy ending.
- © Fairfax NZ News