David Flatman: Some role models fall short – why does it make us angry?

From the Front Row: Rehabilitation won't take place in rugby - it is just too public and too brutal

A year or so ago, I wrote a column about Gavin Henson. To be honest, I wanted to write it as I felt strongly that this was a fragile bloke in need of something other than another inky hammering. In summarising my thoughts I suggested that his legacy would be one of a flower among house bricks; a beautiful athlete who made those around him – at whatever level – look as cumbersome as he was accelerative.

Sadly I was wrong. It still, for good or bad, is not in me to rip Henson to pieces for being less perfect than we wanted him to be. So many of the men we see becoming sporting heroes and role models manage naturally to toe the line and behave in a manner we deem appropriate. Inevitably, there will also be some who fall short, in our minds at least.

What I cannot understand, however, is why this makes people so angry. I know that here I am separating myself from what seems to be a large portion of the reacting public, but it is what I feel. Henson is a bloke who, when in shape and in the mood, was better at rugby than most others. When he was not in the mood he was either crap or somewhere else.

To me, this is nothing more than a huge shame. Had I been the person paying his wages I might feel somewhat aggrieved at this point, but I was not so I do not. Neither do I feel let down, for what did he ever owe me? (Actually he once told an interviewer that we rugby types only drove Audis because they were nearly free and reportedly cost us all the best car deal in history, so you might say he owes me a car.)

As a child, somebody told me that if I was good enough at rugby to make it my career then I must. "Think of all the boys who aren't good enough," he said. "You owe it to them." I always regarded this as rubbish. Play because you love it, not because somebody else thinks you ought to love it.

Henson did not love it enough. He was brilliant, but he did not love the game, the lifestyle and his team-mates sufficiently to curb who he really was. Perhaps his steadfast refusal to consider the potential consequences of his actions was a side effect of always having been the star player for whom the rules always seemed to bend. Or, just as likely, perhaps he is just not very bright. Either way, the equation by which players like Henson are valued – one which stacks his value to the team on the field against the amount of time it takes to manage him – has swung so far from where it began that he is now practically unemployable.

Three top-level coaches and man-managers – at Saracens, Toulon and Cardiff – have now seen their attempts to tame the beast fail. All three were experienced, worldly team men. But Henson just could not and would not do as he was told. It seems to me that he must either have a sort of chemical release in his brain that renders him unable to behave himself, or a real feeling that no matter what he does he will be alright because, hey, he has the talent no coach would sack off. Whichever it is, it has led to his downfall.

A fellow (and departing) Cardiff player was straight on to Twitter once the sacking was announced telling whoever cared that what Henson had done on the plane was not worthy of the punishment, but this missed the point and revealed a narrow view of the world.

By the time Henson arrived at Cardiff he was already the sort of risk that would cost any recruiter sleepless nights. While being totally frank, most players will have boarded the odd early-morning flight with a few units too many in the system, but when Henson did it he proved that, despite assurances made, he could not change his ways. He could not say no. This was the moment his past came back to bite him.

I think the only person he has really let down is himself. Selfishly, I feel disappointed that I might never watch him play again, but that remains my problem, not his. Instinctively, though, I want him to get better. But I do not think this or any behavioural rehabilitation will take place in rugby; it is just too public and too brutal.

I hope it does not take place on national TV either, and that he realises his inner wellbeing and contentment will always be more important than a few quid. He might not be an alcoholic or drug addict but the anti-social nature of his actions will cause him grief wherever he decides to land next.

I hope he seeks the opinion and guidance of someone who shows compassion but also tells him the firm truth that he will need to survive in the real world. Ultimately, he needs to disappear under the radar. Not for our good, but for his.

Suggested Topics
News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor