Sympathy for Salesi

Cardiff Blues announced the imminent signing of Salesi Ma’afu last week. And to be honest, as a fan, at first glance it’s a signing that left me a little conflicted. I wasn’t alone.

On the one hand, here’s a player of proven quality being signed in a crucial position. On the other, here’s a man described by the National Newspaper of Wales” as “shown the exit door by European kings Toulon following a court conviction for assault on a woman in France”.

And, the Western Mail isn’t alone in this. A quick Google reveals plenty of short articles describing Ma’afu as guilty of “assault on a woman” after an argument in a car park.

Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of unease on social media. As well as some outright, unqualified criticism of Cardiff Blues for making the signing. A comparison was made with NFL’s Ray Rice – an individual indicted for punching his wife in the face, who now struggles to find a playing contract.

Let’s be clear, there’s a special place in the seventh circle of hell reserved for men who beat women. You can sometimes allow for a man having a short fuse, or a mistaken belief that raising his fists is a good solution to life’s difficulties. But not when there’s a woman on the receiving end. There is no excuse or blind eye offered to a man who raises his fists to a woman. Ever. There’s no absolution for them. Fuck them.

The question is, does Salesi Ma’afu belong in that company? The implication of “assault on a woman” seems clear. And, this is the brief description that so many news articles have more or less repeated.

But how fair is it?

I don’t intend to absolve Salesi Ma’afu of all sins. But I do think it’s important to apply some detail and context before condemning him.

Here is an account of the trial from a local French newspaper.

From what I’ve found online, it’s the best description of the incident that’s readily available. Google translate gives a rough approximation in English. I’ve had a French friend provide a better translation. Here’s what was claimed:

On Aug. 18th, the woman explained to the police that she was standing on a parking space so that her friend could park. She said she wanted to keep the space for her friend when someone, using his mobile phone while driving, forced his way to the parking space, pushing the front of his vehicle against her legs so hard so that she had to grab the bonnet to avoid a fall. A doctor’s note attests  an incapacity to work for 1 day (erythema on the kneecap).

The following day, a man who was also at the Mourillon car park also filed a complaint. He described the same scene and added that he had been punched on the left side of the jaw when he tried to intervene. “A coroner acknowledged an oedema on the right cheek and fragmentations on the jaw and estimated the damage amounted to an incapacity to work for 5 days,” said Mr. Hervé Andréani, barrister of one of the plaintiffs.

Ma’afu’s own account was different (as you might expect, natch):

I was with my [8-yr old] son who was in the passenger’s seat. I drove on a parking space; when I was half-way on this parking space, a woman appeared with a mobile phone, waving her arms. I braked and honked. I did not understand what she was saying but she was furious. She hit the car. My son was scared and he was crying.”

Around him, he then sees 2 men and 2 women (the victims and their friends). “There was a car blocking mine. I called my wife to ask her to come and get our son. They tried to open the car door. I got out because I wanted them to get away from my son.

What about running over the woman? “That’s untrue,” he assures the court. The punch? “I just wanted to ward off the man [he shows the gesture with his hand to his chin]. I did not punch anybody.”

I’m no legal eagle and I offer no interpretations. Nor do I have any desire to reproduce and comment on the entire article. Suffice to say that Philip Fitzgerald, Ma’afu’s legal representative, raised several questions regarding the statements offered by the witnesses.

Nevertheless, Ma’afu was convicted. And so the version of events presented by the prosecution was ultimately accepted by the court. Although, Ma’afu received only a four month suspended sentence. Not the eight months being asked for. And, it should be noted that the case is being appealed.

The behaviour from Ma’afu described in the first extract is obviously hard to defend. It doesn’t indicate a particularly calm, reasonable nature. It describes reckless, stupid actions.

But is it a description of a man who has raised his fists to a woman? No. It reflects poorly on Salesi Ma’afu, but he does not deserve to be tagged a woman beater.

And, sadly, with so many articles out there on the internet now using this simplified “assaulted a woman” description – the implications of that simplified version of events can so easily become accepted fact.

And, shit sticks. There’s a good chance that Salesi Ma’afu will carry the stigma of this case for many years. Including all the stigma which “assaulted a woman” implies. And that’s a hard thing to live down

Is that fair? I’m saying no.

Does Salesi Ma’afu deserve to be tagged a women beater? Absolutely not.

And regardless of whether or not his appeal is successful, does Salesi Ma’afu deserve the chance to keep playing and prove his value as a rugby player and as a man? Yes. He absolutely deserves to be given that chance.

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