George Hook: 'I was wrong to do what I did and I'm truly sorry'
I had an incredible relationship with my parents and not a week passes that I do not think of the advice they gave me when growing up. This week they were certainly in my thoughts as I considered some of the decisions I made recently.
My mother told me pause and reflect before reacting when I was angry, hurt or upset. Although she did not say count up to ten, I think that is what she meant.
Similarly my father, who was largely instrumental in developing my debating skills, constantly told me to stick to my views even though they might not reflect the consensus. Every broadcast, every newspaper article I do, I believe I have my father's stamp of approval. However, he did add a caveat; to never be afraid to admit that I was wrong.
Last week Jonathan Sexton suggested that I did not believe what I wrote when commenting on brain injuries in rugby. It seemed to me that it struck at the very heart of what I do and my integrity. After all, a commentator has nothing left if he loses that. I fired off a solicitor's letter demanding an apology. I have before and probably will again defend my pursuit of the truth against any attack.
However, I was wrong. Not wrong to be upset, but wrong not to understand the pressure that an international professional sportsman faces when outside influences impact on his life while preparing for the biggest events of his career. I am sure that his focus for the Italy game was not helped by me and for that I am truly sorry.
A good friend told me that the court of public opinion does not have a judge and jury to balance the facts and establish the truth. The public was outraged and social media had a field day. It is interesting that nobody other than friends or family has spoken to me about the issue.
Most of the criticism was anonymous and in many cases obscene. The abuse contained lots of four letter words and I was called a pr**k, a c**t or worse. I have long ignored the abuse on Twitter realising, that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but harsh words never hurt me."
Unthinking actions often affect those closest. My family found it difficult to read the abuse that I had ignored. My grandsons attend Sexton's old school, St Mary's College, Rathmines; six-year-old George IV in Cork had gone to school at Halloween dressed as his hero and wearing a Sexton mask. He even signed autographs for the class as Johnny.
I did not have the right to involve my family in my work and my beliefs if those views cause them angst. Happily, spouses and children easily forgive and I will be warm in the bosom of their love after this has passed. However, I have learned a valuable lesson.
The substantive issue of brain damage in rugby remains and the authorities are in denial. The evidence is overwhelming and 30 years from now we will wonder how we allowed children that do not have the ability to make a mature assessment of the danger, to play the game as currently structured.
Ben Robinson of Carrickfergus died on the field of play in front of his mother; in the last year, Sarah Chesters and Lily Partridge died after damage suffered in rugby matches; and children up and down the country suffered injuries previously only seen in car crashes.
It would be a tragedy if a difference of opinion between the Irish No 10 and me obscured those facts.