A few people reading this may watch, or at least know of, a Sky TV show called School of Hard Knocks. For those who haven’t, this is a rugby show (sorry, rugby again- but not for too long) where a couple of ex-international players go to some disadvantaged area (over 5 series’ they’ve visited North Wales, Liverpool and three boroughs of London), and try to recruit unemployed young men who want to move on in their life and get back into work. Rugby is used as a tool, along with various other team- and character-building exercises, to do this, giving them something to do every day, team-mates and coaches to talk to, and a moral code & set of values. All terribly nice and productive.
I bring this up not because of the show itself, but because of the feedback associated with it. I, lacking a Sky setup, was able to watch the shows a couple of weeks late on rugbydump.com (they have all the Hard Knocks series’ if you’re interested), and reading through the comments sections of the back episodes was in some ways more interesting than the shows themselves. Most of the comments were the fairly standard ‘Great show guys, love what you’re doing, isn’t Scott a tank’ etc., etc., but a few stood out as having radically different viewpoints. ‘These people don’t deserve to be in the presence of rugby greatness’ one might say, or ‘They’re just a bunch of lazy thugs’. One guy’s comment in particular caught my eye, and I think I can do no better than to just give you what he said:
“Good on Quinell and Greenwood [the two internationals running the show] for doing this, but maybe they should focus on their attention on other people. This system is basically rewarding those who deliberately make a mess of their life and basically make trouble.
Been to prison? Charged with assault? Robbed someone? Are you a drug addict? Part of a gang? Got an asbo? If yes to one of the above, we will reward you with the fantastic oppertunity to meet the Welsh rugby team! Watch them train. Get ex-rugby playing Legends to help you play rugby! That is not all, call within the next 24 hours and you will get free tickets to a professional rugby game!
It is seriously like this. Personally, I don’t give a shit about these people, I’m from a poor working class backround like they are and now I’m a doctor. The difference is, I didn’t go out with my mates, I didn’t get into the life of crime, I stayed at home and studied. Where is my meeting with international rugby players?
You know that if no one buys the Olympic 2012 stadium, they will give it to the London council to help gang members ‘get off the street and into athletics’. This system is a joke, reward the bad, shoot dead the good. Words can’t express how angry I am over this series.”
So… yeah, much anger. The reason I find this particular post so interesting is because of the guy’s background. He’s not some upper-class toff with a condescending view of the ‘lower’ classes, or some political hipster banging on about the liberal nanny state (of whom there were a couple). He even gets annoyed at someone suggesting he vote Conservative (this video was posted a few weeks before the election two years ago) because of the disillusionment with politics he felt under Margaret Thatcher. He has not had life come easy to him, and has had to work for everything he now has- he goes on to say how his dad threw him out aged 16, and has totally avoided drugs, drink, smoking and (for some reason) coffee. He knows exactly what he is talking about. And he sees no reason why everybody else cannot and will not follow his example.
When I first saw his post, I spent several long minutes preparing an exquisitely detailed reply from a lefty-liberal perspective, going on about how not everybody can just ‘see the light’ and dedicate their life to following it, how some need a helping hand, how they can be of value to the community once reformed, and so on. Then I remembered the post was two years old and that nobody would even see it, so deleted it. But here, I don’t wish to make that speech. I always said that this blog was not a place for me to discuss my Views.
The point is, a lot of people would (and, in several cases, did) argue vehemently with that guy’s viewpoint, just as many people will contest hugely aggressive arguments concerning all manner of subjects under a wide variety of completely unrelated content (one particularly amusing, although quite startlingly horrifying, one I found recently was posted beneath a YouTube video of the Russian National anthem, in which Godwin’s Law was violated at least 47 million times). This is only to be expected- people’s views differ, and it is every bit their right to such different views.
No, my real problem with this guy’s post is not his standpoint, it is the way he voices his argument. His vitriolic hatred of ‘the system’ (which also has the unfortunate efrect of making him sound like a massive conspiracy theorist) is implied as being something that every other reader of his post must share. He has put a lot of effort into coming across as a person with a very, very good reason for the views he holds- but for some reason he has taken that as some kind of indication that his views are, in some way, more valid than anyone else’s.
This is a pattern repeated time and again across the web; smart, opinionated people with strong views that will not be challenged thinking that for some reason the differing views of similar people need to be changed to fit in line with their own. They cannot accept that their view is not inherently ‘right’, and that they have no chance of changing the view of an equally vindicated opponent- and what inevitably results is an increasingly angry, pointless argument which leaves both participants dissatisfied and annoyed.
It is often very easy to lose sight of the simple truth that people have a right to their own opinion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sharing that view, or even championing it- but claiming that it is in any way inherently right, or that any other view is inherently wrong, is simply a waste of time and, in certain cases, a debasement of the human right to freedom of thought. The above scenario is not such a case, but it is an example of the incessant, pointless bickering that blights the internet every day.
I can’t really think of a suitable way to end this piece, so I thought I’d give you another comment from below an SOHK video. This was posted in response to an earlier post suggesting that ‘these guys are thugs’, and is about the most successful response to such a claim as I have ever seen. Plus, it gives my previous quote some balance, sums up the point of the School of Hard Knocks, and I think it is quite beautiful:
I played representative rugby (Scottish Exiles U21, Hampshire U21, North Of Scotland U18/U15). I played for London Irish in the company of a future British Lion called Rob Henderson – fortunate enough to be coached by Clive Woodward back then for two years. I even played against Scott Quinnell(Llanelli); another future British Lion to be like Will Greenwood. No ‘cheap’ boasting here; just stating fact. It was needed to illustrate a point so I can emphasise the next.
Despite my faults, narcissism is not one. Any false ego-pride was removed long ago in my life.
I never came from a privileged or rich upbringing. Despite this background gained through rugby alone I still ended up living under a railway bridge – having lost everything for two years of my life. I was in the lowest echelon of society in life.
I know what despair, fear and trials are like on the street as a tramp. Alcohol was my demon in the end. Psychoanalysts might say the ‘stresser’ was a vicious knife attack in my life but that is nonsense. My misery was self-inflicted. I drank to avoid facing my emotional anger. I was a moral coward. ‘Sofa-surfing’ to me doesn’t count as being homeless. I would eventually progress from police station holding cells to Cat B prisons. I actually preferred prison to life on the streets – less stress. I didn’t have to eat from bins or steal from shops. I became desensitised to violence.I began to like it. I had nothing to lose so cared about nothing. Again, this is only stating fact. Nothing is for effect.
The SOHK is amazing and certainly pulls my heart chords. I can more than empathise. I’ve been as low as you can go. My discipline from rugby never led me into ‘pity party’ mode however. The SOHK helps restore broken lives. It gives these youngsters a REAL chance to correct their behaviour and develop positive mindsets before it is too late. It gives them a chance they’ve never had – a chance to develop bonds with ‘brothers’ through honest endeavour. It restores their pride and gives them a sense of confidence they’ve never had before. It addresses their emotional immaturity. ‘Masks’ are removed. What scheme can honestly claim to address all these issues? This is all done through rugby!
The SOHK is saving peoples lives. Nobody has the right to judge in life. Scott and Will are fantastic ambassadors as rugby players, but most importantly, as men to emulate. Role models. The SOHK will bear fruit.
Well done to everyone involved.
“They who have conquered doubt and fear have conquered failure.” – James Allen