Tony Veitch has reminded us we have a longer way to go with domestic violence than we might have thought.
The high-profile radio and television sports personality by his own admission lashed out at his former partner in 2006. From unchallenged media reports this was an attack which left his victim physically battered and emotionally shattered. By all accounts she had damaged vertebrae leaving her in a wheelchair for a time and unable to work for an extended period.
In the normal course of events an attack such as this would bring a vigorous prosecution by the police, condemnation from a judge and a lengthy prison sentence. The so-called Sensible Sentencing Trust would be leading the charge. But for two years Veitch has kept the attack hidden from public scrutiny through a deal involving his girlfriend’s silence being bought for a reputed $170,000.
Normally one to crave media attention, Veitch hid in the bowels of TVNZ avoiding the spotlight for two days. He then fronted the media, apologised to all and sundry in what appeared to be a legally prepared statement before scuttling off in a rush, refusing to answer questions. It was a dramatic departure from normal behaviour for this media creation.
Alongside the condemnation from many has also come a chorus of support for Veitch in newspapers and the internet. One online poll was two- to-one against him being sacked for his violent behaviour. John Tamihere says we should not be too quick to judge. Others have been more blunt saying he should be left alone because it’s his private business.
Television New Zealand and The Radio Network which both employ Veitch in high-profile presenter roles seem to agree. Their failure to explain when they first heard about the attack reinforces the feeling they had known for a long time beforehand. It’s inconceivable they were unaware of the rumours which were circulating in the intervening two years. For them it seems Veitch’s crime was failing to keep the assault out of the public arena rather than that the attack took place in the first instance.
They have both now suspended Veitch and say they will conduct their own internal investigations. They are two years too late for their belated concern to have any credibility. It suited them both to turn a blind eye until the whole fetid mess was exposed in the newspaper.
I don’t think for a minute the issue of domestic violence is worse in New Zealand than elsewhere. Women take a subservient, second place in most cultures and religions where the man is the head of the household and the relationship can easily track a downward path to domestic violence from there.
In New Zealand, we have our own versions of this unequal relationship and the sporting culture exemplified by Veitch and his media personality is at the very heart of one of these versions.
The TV show Game of Two Halves which Veitch hosts is a good example. Between him and the likes of Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge, we have a group of adult men who bring to our TV screens the sporting culture of an under-20s rugby changing room.
It’s a popular show and there’s nothing wrong with blokes clowning around, but one would have hoped these older men would have moved on by now and left these boozy, juvenile antics behind them. However, it seems that puerile, adolescent behaviour is the peak of male culture for these men. They are still in the changing rooms of their sporting youth, refusing to grow up. They are our Peter Pans of sporting culture.
Is it any wonder what emerges from such shows is a kind of crude sexism where women become vulnerable targets? Veitch was forced to apologise for his on-air comments referring to black tennis player Serena Williams. “Do you know where the apes come from? She is a reminder,” Veitch told his radio audience a few years back.
No doubt Veitch would say it was all a joke with no harm intended but surely he could do us all a favour and just grow up.
Among the large numbers of men who believe Tony Veitch should be left alone because what happened is none of anyone’s business will be many who would say “There but for the public spotlight go I.” Domestic violence is a huge, male-dominated issue here in New Zealand and elsewhere. As the ads say, domestic violence is not OK. And neither are blind-eye cover-ups. Shame on TVNZ and The Radio Network.