NZ Cricket Should Have Taken A Leaf Out of American Baseball’s Book When It Came To Scott Kuggeleijn
NZC had the chance to say: 'this guy treated a woman badly, and we want people to know that we – as an organization - don't stand for that.'
On Wednesday, Scott Kuggeleijn sat in the main stand of Hamilton's Seddon Park and watched the rain wash out New Zealand's best chance of beating South Africa in a cricket test since 2004.
An all-rounder with the most first-class wickets in the Ford Cup this summer, Kuggeleijn - the son of former NZ representative Chris - had achieved the dream of any young Kiwi cricketer just days before. He had been called up for the Black Caps test squad and, while he wouldn't get out into the middle, a test debut doesn't seem far away for the 25-year-old.
Five weeks before, Kuggeleijn would have felt his cricketing future resting on a knife's edge.
On February 23, he sat in the Hamilton District Court waiting a jury's decision on a charge of rape. Six months before another jury had heard his case – and returned to the judge with a hung verdict. This time, he was declared not guilty.
What happened between those two clear crease lines of Kuggeleijn's young life – a scorned future and a potentially promising one – marks a disappointing missed opportunity by a major Kiwi sports organization to put a spotlight on how high profile athletes can often treat women in New Zealand.
The Kuggeleijn case – which began after an incident in Hamilton in early 2015 - has unfolded in New Zealand media over the last 18 months. If you wish to re-look at what happened, here are a few reports of the initial charge, first and second trials as they happened.
Condemnation has been swift in some quarters of the public, while others are happy to let him play.
At the end of the day, here's what happened: a young man who, while innocent of rape in the eyes of the law, treated a woman like absolute shit, and got away with it relatively scot-free.
Intended or not, Kuggeleijn's call-up to the Black Caps has sent a strong message to the woman involved; that her portrayal of events is irrelevant if the judge says 'not guilty.'
Surely it wasn't so hard for New Zealand Cricket (NZC) – who really just ended up looking like they were waiting for Kuggeleijn to get off the charge so he could be selected –to do something else. Something right. Yep, Kuggeleijn's had a great summer – but did they have to call him up to sit in the stands during a test match that he was unlikely to ever participate in anyway?
Couldn't they wait for a while before selecting him in the team? Couldn't they let a bit of steam go out of all of this? He just left the court a month ago, aye. That's on the minimum scale of addressing all this. Here's an alternative – take a leaf out of American baseball's book.
Yesterday, Dominican pitcher Jeurys Familia was given a 15-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball (MLB)'s domestic violence and sexual assault policy.
Familia, who plays for the New York Mets, was arrested last October in New Jersey after his wife called police to say he was acting drunk and violent. Assault charges were pressed, but then dropped.
Simply put: in the eyes of the law, Familia is innocent. Yet, by virtue of breaking their policy on treatment of women, MLB wanted to make an example of him. To send the message that it is not right to treat women poorly.
Along with his suspension, Familia will lose out on 18 days pay, and, most importantly, be required to speak to other players about domestic violence issues. In a statement, Familia took responsibility for his actions and accepted the punishment.
"With all that has been written and discussed regarding this matter, it is important that it be known that I never physically touch, harmed or threatened my wife that evening," he said. "I did, however, act in an unacceptable manner and am terribly disappointed in myself. I am alone to blame for the problems of that evening."
New Zealand Cricket could totally have front-footed this issue, like the MLB. Sure, they don't have the same policies in place for players regarding treatment of women, nor do suspension periods have to be exactly the same length – but the MLB's pro-active stance provides great context for other major sports organizations.
Back in New Zealand, NZC had the chance to say: 'this guy treated a woman badly, and we want people to know that we – as an organization - don't stand for that.' 'We might select him one day,' they could continue. 'But right now, we just want him – and New Zealand – to know that we don't condone this kind of behavior.'
Instead with Kuggeleijn, NZC didn't even mention the rape charge in their press release on his call-up. You can virtually guarantee that Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson, coach Mike Hesson or NZC chief executive Dave White will never bring it up in an interview or press conference. Their media managers will dead eye any reporter who attempts to ask, too.
Kuggeleijn himself will avoid the subject too, despite it coming out that he himself viewed his behavior as "chilling." Last August, the court heard that the cricketer sent the woman a text the morning after the incident, admitting his behavior was wrong.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry and that I hope you are okay," the cricketer wrote. "I have heard that you felt you couldn't say no and were pressured into things. It's pretty chilling to hear and to think of myself in that light, but looking back, I was very persistent."
Footage of Kuggeleijn bowling, in 2015. Source: Youtube.
What's the excuse from NZC? In reality, it was uncomfortable and inconvenient to talk about, even though issues with sexual consent are pandemic in society. In not saying or doing anything, what message does NZC send? Essentially that it's okay to treat a woman really, really badly, just don't rape her.
That's the point that it seems is being missed in all of the talk around Kuggeleijn. This is not directly a story about a young cricketer receiving a 'not guilty' verdict for rape and then getting a call-up into the Black Caps, though that is the vehicle. It's about a man treating a woman appallingly bad but life continuing on for him with only his reputation slightly knocked.
For NZC, this situation gets the umpire's finger up straight away. It could have been so different.