Shaun Johnson seems like a young man mature beyond his years. And not just in terms of his rugby league performances for the Warriors, for whom he debuted less than a year ago, which have earned him a crack at Australia in the forthcoming Anzac test.
The 21-year-old halfback also seems to have a decidedly level head off the field, responding to an attack on his Asian ethnicity on Twitter by trying to laugh it off.
Johnson, whose mother is Laotian, was sent a message on his Twitter account shortly after the Easter Sunday loss to the Canberra Raiders in Australia, saying "You played like s... today, Asian little gimp!"
Speaking to Fairfax after it came to light, Johnson showed remarkable self-control.
"To get that said to me was something a bit different," he said. "But I'm not angry ... look, everyone's entitled to their own opinion," he added.
Opinion, yes, but since when did how anyone played have anything to do with the colour of their skin or their ethnicity?
Making an issue of the fact that Johnson is part-Asian is blatantly racist. Gutless. Cowardly.
You don't agree? Well think about this. If Johnson plays a blinder on his debut for the Kiwis and carries them to victory over their greatest rivals, how many Twitter users will be sending him messages saying: "You were brilliant, you little Asian superstar!"
None, is the likely answer to that question. So why say it in a message critical of his performance? His ethnicity is irrelevant, but mentioning it suggests that somehow it had something to do with his poor play. Plainly, for some fans, racial stereotyping bubbles just under the surface, quickly rising to the top when things are not going well.
Sadly, the situation comes to light just days after beleaguered Blues coach Pat Lam spoke out about the racist criticism levelled at him and his side in the wake of their sub-par start to the Super Rugby campaign.
Lam may not be cutting it as a coach this year, but it's got nothing to do with his Samoan heritage. Nor do the Blues' travails have anything to do with the number of Maori or Pacific Island players in the side.
This isn't the first place this sort of thing has ever happened. There are plenty of examples of black soccer players in Britain and Europe suffering abuse, just as one example. But it's to our shame that it's still happening here.
Race relations conciliator Joris de Bres has labelled the perpetrators cowards and he's right. We live in a multicultural melting pot and it's time to accept that and grow up as a country.
- © Fairfax NZ News