My criticism of Stormers utility back Damian Willemse’s annual salary was based on the player’s indifferent form in the context of a professional franchise that is under major financial duress. To try and make it a case of racism is seeing ghosts in every shadow.
I reacted to a story I read in the Rapport Newspaper that named Willemse. And that story’s facts are accurate.
I certainly did not go looking for Damian Willemse’s salary or single out Willemse from nowhere.
The player’s name led the back page of last Sunday’s Rapport Newspaper, in which the article condemned the nature of how WP, as a union, was conducting its financial affairs. The article in question referenced Willemse’s salary as one example of over expenditure.
The standard in professional sport is to hold every player accountable for their performance. Not holding a player accountable to that standard because they are a player of colour in this country, is not only insulting the player’s sporting quality but the very definition of prejudice and racism.
Before, in this country of ours, you couldn’t pick a player of colour no matter how good he was or how well he was playing. The ongoing struggle was to end this oppressive system in the name of equality. Are we now in a situation where we cannot question anything about a player of colour’s performance, no matter how badly he is playing?
A few years ago, I was at my local Spar in Vredehoek, a suburb just off Cape Town’s City Centre. The bloke in front of me was being rude to the teller. He was insulting her in every way. He swore at her, called her incompetent, argued the price of something and then took a call on his mobile while she waited to process his purchase.
All the while, the queue built behind me.
I called out to him to please get off his phone, pay and move along.
He glared at me. The teller eyed me with suspicion.
He paid, gave me the stare and left.
I got to the till and she asked me why I yelled at him. She wanted to know if it was because he was black? I was stunned. I said I yelled at him because he was treating her with disrespect. She shrugged her shoulders and told me that he was very rich because of the jewelry he was wearing. I said it didn’t give him the right to swear at her.
I paid and left and he was waiting outside for me.
I was expecting the confrontation but he was not expecting my answer.
He asked me if I had a problem with him because he was black and I said I had a problem with him because he was behaving like an arsehole. He told me he was rich and I encouraged him to take some of his money and go buy some perspective and some common decency.
I wrote a column about it back then, saying it felt liberating to be able to tell someone they were acting inappropriately and not excuse it because of the colour of their skin, be it black or white.
This week, in a column, I gave an opinion on a report that Western Province and Stormers utility back Damian Willemse was paid an annual salary of R5million. I wrote that, as talented as he was, his performances of the past year did not justify that salary. I wrote Damian Willemse, the rugby player in 2021, was not worth an annual R5million contract fee.
I was accused of being racist and of not wanting players of colour to earn money.
I was also then accused of ‘outing’ a professional player’s salary.
The accusations were plenty.
The internet archives have many articles I have written on the virtues of Willemse as a rugby player, who I rate as among the most talented produced in South Africa in the past decade. The purple prose has flowed from me when it has come to Willemse’s rugby as a schoolboy, under 20 player and his introduction into professional rugby. But is he worth his combined Springboks and Stormers salary? My opinion: NO.
If Willemse was white I’d be saying the same thing.
Earlier this month I wrote that Siya Kolisi’s form was a concern and that the Springboks needed an in-form, motivated and inspired Kolisi to front the British & Irish Lions. I was accused of being a racist and of questioning Kolisi because he was black.
In the same week I wrote the piece, Kolisi gave a media interview to say his form, right at that moment, did not warrant Boks selection and that his play had to improve radically.
In the past fortnight it has and he headlined my blog www.keo.co.za as one of the good news stories of the last rugby weekend.
The racist accusations were gone for a day, as were the trolls.
But they were back in full force this week in only seeing colour when all I saw was a lack of performance in the past season from a professional rugby player.
Also on www.keo.co.za