Grant Chapman: Rightly or wrongly, public criticism an occupational hazard of being an All Black

OPINION: Very few jobs carry the same level of scrutiny as being an All Black.

In New Zealand, it probably ranks up there with politicians and - ironically - media.

If you can’t deal with that, maybe you need to find a ‘safer’, low-profile job where no-one notices when you screw up.

Outrage at the weekend’s shock loss to Argentina - following closely on the heels of bitter defeat to the Wallabies - has met with an equally passionate reaction from families and former teammates, pleading for the public (especially media) to go easy on the players and fearing for their mental health.

Leading the charge is Greer Perenara - wife of halfback TJ Perenara, who was among those blamed for the Aussie loss and subsequently not retained against the Pumas.

While ‘rest and rotation’ muddies the water these days, that last point suggests the selectors also felt he was somewhat culpable, although they would never openly admit it.

Players are used to being dropped from time to time - they don’t enjoy it, but accept it’s an occupational hazard and find ways to move on.

Unfortunately, so is public scrutiny.

Media has been around forever as the self-appointed guardian of truth (or at least versions of truth), but more recently, social media has amplified the outcry by providing a much wider forum for armchair critics to express their opinions.

Greer Perenara even used that same platform to express hers.

That’s not to say she’s necessarily wrong…

Over the past couple of months, Three’s Match Fit exposed some of the issues facing retired All Blacks, many stemming from the pressures of performing at sport’s top level.

Some are physical, some are emotional.

The population let out a collective gasp, as former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry - these days a national hero, after breaking a 24-year World Cup drought - confessed he suffered mental health problems.

Should we really be so surprised?

This was a guy labelled ‘The Great Redeemer’, who became the world’s highest-paid rugby coach at the helm of Wales, but fell short of that lofty billing, never winning a World Cup or Six Nations title for the rugby-mad nation.

His one stint in command of the British & Irish Lions resulted in a first series loss to Australia.

Returning home, his first tenure as NZ coach saw his side suffer a stunning loss to France in the World Cup quarter-finals - still New Zealand’s worst showing at the tournament.

And then he was controversially reappointed for four more years on the basis that he had learned from his mistakes.

Can you imagine the flack he has copped across mainstream and social media during his career?

But if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen… or at least wear something flame retardant.

If you really want to be an All Black, sadly, being a handy rugby player simply is no longer enough. That’s just reality.

Developing a thick skin is now as important as a sidestep, a fend or a left-footed clearing kick.

No-one likes getting smashed in a tackle, but that’s part of the game, and you must learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and play on. 

Or not.

Thankfully, most sports recognise how exposed their athletes are and proactively help them build resilience to limit the impact of public criticism.

One of the best at dealing with that aspect of his fame is former Warriors league star Shaun Johnson, who has attracted more than his share of detractors over the years.

Johnson once famously asked a particularly pesky radio interviewer how many NRL games he had played. Predictably, the answer was none.

While the comeback was widely scorned within the media as somewhat smart-arse, it was a reminder that most condemnation comes from the cheap seats, not from tangible experience.

On another occasion, when confronted on a recent run of poor form, Johnson dismissed the premise and revealed he had a support network - by inference, more knowledgeable than a gaggle of reporters - that he trusted to tell him what he needed to hear, good or bad.

As a prolific user of social media, presumably he also has someone monitoring his accounts for trolls.

Becoming a national hero comes with many perks - including a fat paycheck - but it also comes at a cost that must inevitably and unfortunately be paid.

Perhaps the key is this - decide which opinions actually count and treat the rest as white noise.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor.