Since news broke of James Small’s passing, plenty has been written and said about the former Springbok winger.
The “rebel with a cause” is much celebrated for taking down man-mountain Jonah Lomu during the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, and his off the field behaviour has also been put under the spotlight.
Small was never shy to open up about his struggles with suicide and depression, most notably during an interview with John Robbie last year, and it took a call from Nelson Mandela to bring him back from the brink in 2009.
Perhaps most controversially, details of Small’s final hours at a strip club called The Harem in Bedfordview were widely reported this past weekend, as fans and former teammates rallied in support of Small’s family’s privacy.
One of those former teammates is James ‘Bullet’ Dalton, and he penned a column on SA Rugby Mag titled “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.
He hit back at those reports surrounding the circumstances of Small’s death:
It is unfortunate that in the wake of Small’s passing, some of the media and public focus was on a report delving into the personal life of a rugby legend whose off-field antics are in reality none of my or anybody else’s business, and should be detached from the impact he had on the game, and the SA rugby public.
James was likened to myself, a ‘misunderstood individual’ – perhaps that’s a nice way of putting it when we’re guilty of silly behaviour – and while there will always be controversy surrounding him off the field, he was never a rebel in a team environment. He was a brilliant rugby player, an icon and somebody I considered a dear friend.
Playing against James meant playing against a 6-star performer. He embodied all the qualities you look for in the modern day wing: he had pace, strength, skill and tenacity. Playing with James, he was a teammate loyal to the core.
His loyalty transcended rugby, and as a friend he always had time for you. Not only for you, but for your family, too. I regret not having made more of an effort to show my appreciation for this and keep in touch, as I am choked up in saying goodbye. It acts as a lesson to us all that life is but a heartbeat.
He finishes by saying that we should remember Small as “somebody who added true value to this country’s rugby history”, and “the brilliant on-field memories that that name brings to many South Africans”, rather than for the recent reports about his death.
It’s worth noting that one of the men at the centre of that story, The Harem club’s co-owner, Jerome Saffi, refutes some of the information that was first reported by Rapport.
He says that Small wasn’t found naked, but was rather “having a few drinks at the bar while he waited for a date when he collapsed”. Here’s News24:
“My staff told me he was using his phone when he suddenly collapsed,” Saffi told Beeld. Staff members reportedly administered CPR in an attempt to help him.
“They struggled to get him into a car as he is a heavy man. I suspect his pants may have been pulled down a bit [in the process] but he wasn’t nude,” Saffi reportedly said…
Saffi described The Harem as a discreet gentlemen’s club which rents rooms to men who want to meet women, according to Netwerk24. The Harem reportedly employs women who men can choose from, but clients mainly bring their own dates to the club.
An adult man, who was single, meeting a woman for a drink. There might be more to the story, but we’ll leave it there for now.
Small’s funeral will be held tomorrow (Thursday, July 18) at 2PM at The Deck at the Wanderers Club, with the family stressing that all mourners will be welcome.
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