JIM HAY is supposed to be enjoying a long weekend away with a couple of close friends in Marbella: hitting a few golf balls, sinking the odd beer and soaking up some rays.
It is a well-earned break for the former Scotland hooker from his current day job running a busy estate agents in his native Hawick – but rather than feeling his stress levels drop while sunning himself in the Costa del Sol, he found the opposite happening on Friday afternoon when a text message from home reported that he had become the focal point of a minor media storm over a comment he had posted on social media two days earlier as part of a wide-ranging discussion on player welfare.
Hay discovered that his words along with his photo had appeared in the back pages of at least three tabloid newspapers – the Daily Record, The Sun and the Daily Express – and was also the lead item in the lunchtime sports bulletin on BBC Radio Scotland.
While Hay stands by the sentiment expressed, he states that the newspaper reports fail to provide appropriate context, and that they portray him as a ‘self-appointed spokesman’ when in reality he was merely contributing to a general conversation on a topical issue in the game.
“I was scrolling through Facebook on Wednesday night and someone had posted an interview with Shaun Longstaff [the former Scotland wing and current players’ agent] talking about professional players getting bigger and bigger, and whether there was a safety issue with this. A whole load of people had commented on it, and even though I’ve had nothing to do with rugby for years, it struck a chord,” he explained.
“I used to be the players’ representative with the Scottish Professional Rugby Players Association and my last real involvement in rugby was coaching at under-18s level, so I was looking at it from that perspective. It just concerned me that a young player could finish playing colts rugby and suddenly be jettisoned into the club game, then suddenly come up against a seasoned pro coming back from injury.”
“It seems to me like an accident waiting to happen and that’s what I commented on. I just feel like there is a danger that it might take for something really terrible to happen – like a fatality – before we start to really think about it seriously.”
“But I don’t want to be the guy outside the camp chucking rocks in. I was just voicing my personal opinion on a thread. I knew it wasn’t a private forum, but I didn’t expect journalists to be snooping round it looking for something to put in the paper. It was just a group of guys with a similar background and a similar outlook on life discussing the game. It was like a conversation you might have with a group of pals in the pub – so for that to be taken and splashed all over the Daily Record like I was a self-appointed spokesman on the subject is really disappointing. It’s ruined my holiday.”
Here is Hay’s Facebook comment in full –
“Full time Pro players should not be playing in the club game, the gulf in strength, power and pace is getting wider every season. The SRU do not allow a 17 year old to prop in adult rugby yet as soon as he’s 18 he’s ok to play and could be up against a pro player. Sad to say I think there will be a collision fatality in the game in the future, high chance it should be in the club game due to the current mismatch in physical strength and size if nothing is done, the cub game should be amateur.” [sic]
Hay accepts that he was naïve in believing that nobody outside the group involved in the discussion would pick up on his words, but adds that he is frustrated that such an important issue has been handled so flippantly.
“If somebody from the Daily Record or the BBC had phoned me and said that they had seen my comments and that they thought it was an important story, then I’d have been happy to discuss it with them. But they didn’t do that – they just put this headline there about people dying because they wanted to sell a few more papers. It’s disappointing because it is a very serious subject, but the journalist who wrote that has just gone for the easy line, and the paper has just gone along with it without asking any of the important questions,” he said.
“It’s a lesson learned for me. I’ll never comment on social media again. I think it’s a really sneaky way for a journalist and a newspaper to behave.”
“I regret saying that there could be a fatality because that’s what they’ve latched onto,” he continued. “It’s made me sound like I’m saying that rugby is too dangerous and that parents should think twice before letting their kids play it – but that’s not my view at all.”
“I got a lot out of rugby and I hope thousands more kids can get the same enjoyment out of the game as I did – but I do have concerns about safety, and I would like the people who run the game now to put some serious thought into making sure that the game is as safe as it can be. However, it needs to be a sensible, grown-up conversation, not a load of rabble-rousing like this.”
“Maybe I’m too long in the tooth but I just find it sad that someone can pick up one comment from a long conversation and stick it in the paper. They should be saying: That’s a big issue, let’s talk about it properly. Let’s go and speak to some doctors, let’s see what research there is, let’s treat it seriously.”
“If somebody was to come back to me and say that they have looked at it and they can say for a fact that having pro players in the club game does not raise the chance of injury one iota then I’d be surprised and I’d want to find out more, but I would be glad that somebody has put some thought and effort into finding out the truth.”