The Kiwi pair of Hamish Bond (l) and Eric Murray (r) rowing past a World Championships ad banner in 2014
In recent days, Eric Murray, the bow seat of the indomitable Kiwi pair that piled up a streak of 69 wins in elite international competition culminating in their second Olympic gold in Rio, was the subject of a fair amount of attention due to his appearance in a television beer ad created by the NZ Brewers Association. The ad was part of a campaign to announce the addition of nutritional content labels on beer packaging, but the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Murray is a "hero to the young" and does considerable work in schools, and as such cannot appear in alcohol ads.
The ad features Murray telling the story of a formidably memorable beer he had with his father and father-in-law; you can see the ad here.
We asked Murray to share his take on the controversy; he was characteristically thoughtful and entertaining.
row2k - All controversy aside (for now), what were your thoughts on being officially declared a 'hero to youth?
Eric Murray - It's humbling really. But we put ourselves in that position by being sportspeople, and with that becomes a responsibility on how you portray yourself. And because we got really good at what we did, that responsibility gets greater. So we have to be role models whether we like it or not, and you have to do your best to try and be the best person you can.
row2k - Were you surprised by the whole thing?
Eric Murray - I wasn't. Because the brewers Association knew I liked my beer, they asked me to promote the fact that beer was introducing nutritional labels to its bottle for people to see what was in beer. We knew about the "hero of the young" code, which is basically so people with any public image or influence do not promote products that have a harmful or negative affect in society. This fell in the "grey" area where it was promoting any particular brands as such, just "beer" in general; but because it implied it was 'enjoyed' for a social occasion, it was borderline with the code.
row2k - Should 'hero to youth' mean the same as 'no fun'?
Eric Murray - No.... if there wasn't a code, then some industries with big $$ could really use people to help Influence markets.
row2k - Or maybe better put: is there a way to be a 'hero to youth' and still be OK with beer?
Eric Murray - I'm still ok with beer. It's about being responsible and learning your limits and the reason you are drinking it. I never gave it up during my time training or competing because it was a great way to relax with friends.
row2k - You are retired; is there a point at which you could do work like this? Do you think it is unfair at all?
Eric Murray - I don't know what the lawmakers say about the timeframe! Maybe that's something I need to be asking myself.
row2k - Do you think this is any kind of big deal?
Eric Murray - Not really, most people didn't know what the code "Heroes of the young" was, so it's bought that into the light and debate. A lot Of people think it's too PC (politically correct).
It's ok, it just means that people won't see me on TV anymore during the restricted hours of 7am-9pm which is when the 'young people' watch.