Since removing her swimming cap to reveal a ‘marketable face’ and winning three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Stephanie Rice has been the golden girl of Australian swimming.
Her success in the pool launching her (willingly or not) into the stratosphere of the modern Australian sporting icon.
A proven performer, Rice has a legion of fans globally.
So not surprisingly, opportunistic sponsors came calling and a young lady used to going without (let’s be honest, the revenues of the pool are miniscule for most) no doubt thought all her Christmas’ had come at once in the form of car-maker Jaguar and intimates apparel retailer Davenport.
Forgetting for a moment, that swimming as a profession does not a Jaguar driver make, let’s turn our attention to the now infamous @ItsStephRice Tweet following the Wallabies’ historic win over the South African Springbok’s last weekend. Now known as another turning point in her career.
What was actually said on the tweet can not be comprehensively confirmed because Rice’s @ItsStephRice original post has been deleted from the Twittersphere. (Bad decision #2)
But, I do have it on good authority that the Tweet opened with: ‘SUCK ON THAT FAGGOTS’.
Hmm…rest for a moment on that one, because I think it’s fair to say that for Rice the world class Australian super star swimmer that was Bad Decision #1. Why?
It was aggressive, rude, and inappropriate.
Read on a little further and enter the ever-important, but at times elusive context:
‘…PROBS THE BEST GAME I’VE EVER SEEN!! WELL DONE BOYS.’
And it is clearly the tweet of an Australian rugby fan twittering her thoughts after enjoying the tightly contested historical test match that went down to the wire.
So was it as bad as they say? No, of course not.
So that being the case, why was the 22 year old athlete forced to apologise to a ravenous swarm of corporate media at an antiquated press conference (Bad decision #3) in Sydney in tears? Because of what her Tweet inferred? Or because the first openly gay rugby league footballer, Ian Roberts, came out uttering offence calling for her to be accountable for her insults? Ian, you should know better!
Let’s leave aside the fact that Rice tweets regularly with Australian Wallabies Giteau, Beale and Co…(don’t look so surprised they have a lot in common: diet, travel, sleep, training, diet, sleep, training, sleep, weights, gym, run, sponsor lunch, speaking appearance, photo-shoot, interview, weights, gym, swim, run, sleep…) As well as the fact that it was the first time the Wallabies had beaten the Springboks in Bloemfontein since 1933 (and South Africa since 1992 although the ARU has it as 1963 on their official releases) and what have you got? Confirmation that Stephanie Rice, when not being a world class athlete herself, is an engaged (and even by rugby standards a learned) rugby union fan. That’s right, she jumps the fence and becomes a fan: although the rules of the elite professional (according to the corporate media) still apply to her.
Rice’s ‘shout out’ to her ‘Tweeps’, according to the moral crusaders in the media and business worlds is cause enough for vilifying her as a South African hating homophobe.
But is it Rice that said that, or is it our interpretation of Rice’s vernacular that produces the prejudice?
Personally, I didn’t know what faggot meant.
The old PR Manager in me thought it could be a furry maggot and if you’ve ever witnessed a Springbok eye-gouging or rucking then it’s a valid slur usually directed at the instigator by the recipients mother. But even I couldn’t overlook the inference of the well-known 90’s homophobic vernacular.
But because I wasn’t sure, if that meaning still applied in 2010, I referred to the Australian publishing bible the Macquarie Dictionary and discovered that Rice’s tweet doesn’t make sense – literally.
// (say ‘faguht)
noun 1.a bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches, etc., bound together, used for fuel, as a fascine for revetment, etc.
2. a bundle of pieces of iron or steel to be welded.
3. a bundle or bunch of anything.
4. a ball of chopped meat, especially pork offal, mixed with herbs, bread, or oats, etc., and eaten fried, or baked.
6. Colloquial (derogatory) a male homosexual.
–verb (t) 7. to bind or make into a faggot.
8. to ornament with faggoting. Also, US, fagot. [Middle English, from Old French; origin uncertain; 6. [originally US slang, from British slang, prostitute, slattern]
Bibliography: The Macquarie Dictionary Online © Macquarie Dictionary Publishers Pty Ltd.
So what was Rice saying?
1. Suck on that Bundle of sticks, twigs, used for fuel (I get it, de Villiers the Boks’ coach seems to snap like a twig whenever someone says something he doesn’t want to hear)
2. Suck on that Bundle of pieces of iron/ steel to be welded (okay, the Bok’s are reknowned hard men of the pitch so this still works. If anything, some may say it’s a little too nice for a good Wallabies fan sledge!)
3. Suck on that bundle or bunch of anything (Pretty weak, yet again)
4. Suck on that Ball of Chopped meat (I like this one! This one works best)
5. Suck on that bouquet garni (I have NO idea what this one means! Bueller?)
6. Suck on that Male homosexual (Irrelevant – who cares who anyone sleeps with- politically incorrect and highly controversial and therefore considered most plausible by both the 90’s vernacular and those in search of a story.)
7. Suck on that to bind into a fagot (The use of old English does sound a little bit pompous from someone who swims back and forth ‘Dory-style’ for a living, but hey! If the shoe fits…)
8. Suck on that prostitute (Taken out of context I guess this one could be even more controversial but unless the Bok’s are engaging in extra-curricular activities, this one’s probably most like #6).
But seriously, why skip to number six and prejudice the bundle of twigs, pieces of steel, or any bundle for that matter, including: chopped meat, the bouquet garni(!!!) and bless them, the always vilified prostitutes! I tell you why, it’ll sell more newspapers, generate more talkback and just as brilliantly, it will start a conversation about the roles and responsibilities of professional athletes at a time when the sports news isn’t exactly flowing and the advertising revenues are stagnating.
The problem here is predominately two-fold: Stephenie Rice the athlete acted like a typical rugby fan and the mass media of broadcast (which car sponsors still spend LOTS of advertising dollars with) know how to rally business community sentiment in their favour.
It’s CONTEXT that is the real problem here. A rugby fan’s highly competitive comment, made to friends, exists within which ever context the reader decides to place it.
And given additional oxygen by former Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts who had to defend his sexuality through the prejudiced ignorance of the 90’s in which the term faggot was only meant as a degrading hit on his homosexuality.
Now… I’m not sure about you, but I’d put money on it, that Rice’s Tweet was meant to be derogatory towards South Africans (what Aussie or Kiwi Rugby – and even recently South African – rugby fan doesn’t seize the opportunity to take a verbal stab during the Tri-Nations?).
Did she intend to vilify homosexuals at the same time? I highly doubt it.
So why is this such a disaster? Because Rice is a public person, even when she’s not working and because by playing by the old media rules, Rice keeps feeding the media new angles for the story.
The mass corporate media does not differentiate between private and public sports personas outside of a pub, cafe or sponsor function. Why? Because for the most part, they are still trying to work out the best way to operate within the new media channels of social networking media sites like Facebook.com, Twitter.com and myspace.com.
So when is the athlete just a normal person? Or is normal an illusion and that person is forever held to a higher moral standard than all other members of society and in Rice’s case, most university students her own age!
Why is it that just because she is brilliant at sport and has been tagged with the celebrity label, the antiquated ‘role model’ tag anchors her as a socio-cultural moral compass? I’m guessing it’s because as a result of her athletic achievements she has an earning capacity most of the population can only dream of.
The saddest part of all of this is how the case highlights the futility of sports sponsorship. Jaguar have revealed their corporate fangs in true anti-democratic old-school butt-covering 90’s PR fashion, while Davenport have not only revealed themselves as a sponsor in partnership with the person as well as the athlete, but have showcased a mature and foresighted understanding of both the dialogic (two way) conversation of micro-blogging social networking sites like Twitter (people are going to say and do dumb things!) as well as, the realisation that a corporation no longer CONTROLS a brand, let alone the key messaging of it’s sponsored entities.
So budding sports superstars BEWARE when next out sponsor hunting and remember, as Andrew Keen says in The Cult of the Amateur, ‘the internet is but a mirror of ourselves!’ …and @ItsStephRice good on you for not being afraid to stumble again in the social, global, ubiquitous and very public media channel that is the Twitterverse, time will pay testament to the fact, that you are actually leading by example.