Belfast Telegraph

Those who admit to making big mistakes can be role models too

By Lindy McDowell

Cynics might claim - in fact they have already - that, well, he would say that, wouldn't he?

As the controversy rumbles on in the aftermath of the trial in which he and fellow rugby star Stuart Olding were cleared of rape, and their friends Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison similarly cleared on other charges, Paddy Jackson has issued a statement apologising for "betraying the values of my family and the wider public".

And "apologising unreservedly" too, for the "degrading and offensive" WhatsApp messages shared with his friends which were disclosed during the court case.

"The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public," he says. "Following the trial I have taken time to reflect with my family on the values that were such an integral part of my upbringing, the most important of which is respect."

Any parent will immediately recognise the scenario the carefully couched words of that latter sentence allude to...

His Ma and Da will have gone through him. How could you behave like that?

His family - all the families of these four young men - stood by them during the long months leading up to the trial and the long weeks of the court action itself.

And now it's time for the "reflection" Jackson refers to.

He was brought up to show respect for others, he says. He's making it clear here that he accepts he's let his family down.

And that's not an easy thing to acknowledge to yourself let alone admit to the world at large.

Those cynics I mentioned would say that he's only issued the statement of apology to take some of the heat out of the considerable flak he and his friends have been taking in recent days. There's been an ad in this newspaper, crowd funded by 139 people, demanding that Jackson and Olding never play for Ireland and Ulster again. Protests have been organised throughout Ireland. And the hashtag haters have been letting rip on social media.

But there will be many, many other people who will see in this statement a genuine attempt by this young man to express real regret - and not just because of the public backlash he's had to face.

The last 18 months must have been utter hell for him.

Utter hell for his family too.

But his decent, honourable, loving parents supported him throughout.

And although he was acquitted unanimously by the jury of the allegation made against him, those abhorrent WhatsApp messages and the revelations about his behaviour on the night will have been so hard for his family to listen to.

But Paddy Jackson, now 26, was almost two years younger when he and his friends shared those messages. In terms of maturity and what he's learned since then, that must seem like a lifetime ago.

Those messages would never have been made public had the four young men not been brought to court to face the allegations of which they were acquitted.

You and I would never have know about them, in other words.

It's reprehensible language, of course it is. But at which point do the rest of us draw a line under this?

If it is accepted that lewd WhatsApp messages shared two years ago between a group of braggart, callow young men should preclude them from a sports career, there may be a difficulty ensuring the fairness of this ruling in future.

Will all young sportsmen - and sportswomen - now be expected to reveal all their private postings so that we can peruse them too for offensive material?

I want to make it clear that I'm not for a second saying those messages were no big deal.

But Jackson and Olding and McIlroy and Harrison and indeed Craig Gilroy now accept that themselves.

The four who faced court have been unanimously cleared.

They were stupid but they are young and they deserve a chance to rebuild their lives. And to prove to their families and to the wider public that they have learned their lesson.

We generally think of role models in terms of the faultless, those we can look up to because they never have, and never will, put a foot wrong.

But there are role models too - and maybe more powerful inspiration for the young - among those who have made mistakes, who have acknowledged they have made mistakes, and who try to do what they can to atone.

What does it say about the rest of us, if we don't even give them a chance?

The lives of those four who appeared before the court - and their families' lives - have, as one defence lawyer noted, been "blighted" by this court action.

Yet Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have both in their public apologies made reference to the young woman who made those allegations against them.

"I am ashamed that a young woman who was a visitor to my home left in a distressed state," is how Jackson puts it. "This was never my intention and I will always regret the events of that evening."

He didn't have to say that.

It must have been hard to sit down with his parents and his family when the case was all over and acknowledge that he'd let them down and that he had been reared with better values.

And it must be hard for him to say that publicly.

We should at the very least respect him for that.

Belfast Telegraph

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