The rise of the Barrett brothers, the All Blacks’ prolific family affair

When asked what he planned to do after retiring from rugby, Kevin Barrett — or “Smiley,” as he was nicknamed — announced he was “going to breed some All Blacks.”

A bold statement, but he did just that. Three of them, to be precise — the first trio of siblings to ever start a game for New Zealand’s hallowed rugby team.

Beauden — a World Cup winner and two-time player of the year — Jordie, and Scott made history when they linked arms to sing the national anthem before taking on France in 2018.

It’s not uncommon for two brothers to line up for the All Blacks — 46 sets have done so in the past — but for a single family to have such a foothold within the current team is unprecedented.

Good genes certainly play their part: Dad Kevin was an uncompromising second row forward in his playing days, turning out for provincial side Taranaki 167 times, while Mom Robyn was a strong runner and a talented netball and basketball player.

But growing up on a dairy farm on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island did its bit for the boys too.
“It certainly helped just having acres and acres of green grass, a back lawn where there’s goal posts and plenty of siblings and cousins around to compete with and play against,” Beauden, who has more than 70 All Blacks caps to his name, tells CNN World Rugby.

“I think that the only thing that mum ever forced us into doing something was dropping us off at the top of the road and grabbing our school bag. She’d give us a pair of sneakers and say, ‘Run home.'”

But on the playground that was the family farm, shoes were unnecessary. Barefoot running was usually the way the siblings roamed the pastureland surrounding their home.

“I was more than happy to not wear shoes. The only time we wore shoes was on Sunday when we went to church,” says Beauden. “Our feet were pretty tough back then, I couldn’t do it today.”

Swapping sports

A competitive urge came naturally to the Barrett boys, often at the expense of Jordie — the youngest of the family’s five brothers.

“Most of them aren’t very nice memories, I spent a lot of the time crying and trying to compete and be as good as my older brothers,” he says.

“But it was a very good position to be in. I was lucky, I always had boys to kick the ball around with or play backyard cricket with so that was a pretty cool position to be in.”

There are eight Barrett siblings in total, each of whom carries the sport-obsessed genes. Kane, the eldest, was a talented rugby player turning out for Taranaki and Super Rugby side the Blues before concussion forced him to retire early, and Blake, the fourth brother, also plays at the local club.

There are then three younger sisters who enjoy swimming, netball, and dancing.

Even the family’s rugby internationals continue to flit between sports today. Jordie and Beauden speak with CNN at the T20 Black clash, a charity cricket game pitching the country’s best cricketers against its rugby stars. For Jordie, who lashed a 42 not out at the crease and picked up two wickets, both sports come easily.

“In the end, rugby just made a decision for itself, really,” the 22-year-old says of a potential career on the cricket pitch. “I enjoyed my cricket growing up and played it right until first year at university — basically until I couldn’t play both, and it was as simple as that.”

‘A shiver down your spine’

That three brothers from a rural corner of New Zealand have all gone on to play Test rugby is credit to the country’s pathway system.

It’s not just that New Zealand, with a population of little more than four million, excels at rugby’s elite level. Pitches are everywhere and clubs are in nearly every town. Rugby is in the country’s lifeblood, and boys and girls of all ages dream of playing for the national teams.

“I just remember, it seemed to be the thing to do to get up a three o’clock in the morning and watch the All Blacks play England or South Africa,” says Beauden. “It was just part of who were, and I imagine it’s the same today.

“I think New Zealand Rugby do an exceptional job, the way it’s set up from the All Blacks, right down to grassroots. There’s a clear path young players can take if they want to be an All Black, if they’re talented, or if they get opportunities.”

There’s a pretty convincing argument that the All Blacks are the most successful sports franchise in history, boasting a better record than Brazil in football or Australia in cricket. Their 125-year win ratio is over 75%, more than any other major national sports team.

Engrained in the team’s identity is the haka. Performed before each game, it was originally a Maori ritual undertaken by the country’s indigenous people ahead of battle. Today, it unites the All Blacks — many of whom are from different ethnic backgrounds.

“Whoever does the haka, it sends a shiver down your spine,” says Scott, who made his international debut in November 2016. “It gets your blood boiling and that’s what you look forward to — the time before games. It’s something special, for sure.

“When I got on the field it just happened so quick and I loved every minute of it because that’s what every Kiwi boy growing up wants to do — play for the All Blacks. It’s a dream come true.”

Tasting success

New Zealand has been the top-ranked side in the world for close to a decade and this year will go in search of a record third straight World Cup win. It won’t be straightforward, though.

Northern hemisphere rugby is in a stronger position than ever with Ireland defeating the All Blacks late last year and England and Wales also running hot.

The three Barrett brothers are likely to all feature in Japan this year. While they admit time with the whole family together can be difficult to come by, a victory for the All Blacks would no doubt bring them all together.

It did when Beauden, a try-scorer in the 2015 final as New Zealand beat Australia at Twickenham, brought the Web Ellis Cup back to the family farm. Celebrations saw Dad fill the trophy with milk from their cows.

Don Lemon questions Trump’s mental fitness, says Kellyanne Conway is ‘beneath the dignity’ of CNN

CNN’s Don Lemon went after both President Donald Trump and of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Thursday night, questioning the president’s mental fitness and his White House associate’s fitness to appear on the cable network.

Lemon criticized Trump for mocking the hand gestures of former congressman Beto O’Rourke’s, who just entered the 2020 presidential race.


“I said, ‘is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’” Trump told reporters.

Lemon had a lot to say about Trump’s comment.

“Crazy, huh? That’s pretty ironic, really ironic. Questioning somebody’s mental fitness on the basis of how they move their hands or how they talk?” Lemon said.

The CNN anchor showed a montage of some of the president’s memorable gestures and sounds from the campaign trail.


Lemon then asked, “Who is Donald Trump to question anybody else’s mental fitness, projecting much?”

Earlier in the show, Lemon trashed Conway’s interview with his colleague Chris Cuomo, insisting that her presence on CNN is “beneath the dignity of this network.”

“She never answers a question. She berates you. She’s condescending,” Lemon said of Conway.

“When you come on CNN, you have an obligation to be honest to the American people,” Lemon told Cuomo. “You can give your opinion, you can give your take, but it is a privilege to come on this network and speak to the American people. If you’re gonna do it, do it directly and honestly.”

Lemon’s “CNN Tonight” is billed as a news program, as opposed to an opinion show, but he continues to trumpet far-left beliefs on a nightly basis. Earlier on Thursday, a different CNN show was slammed for an on-screen graphic that critics say editorialized news of the Senate preparing its vote to block President Trump’s border emergency declaration.

Under a red breaking-news banner, CNN said, “SOON: SENATE TO EMBARRASS TRUMP WITH ‘EMERGENCY’ VOTE,’” during the network’s 1 p.m. ET hour, hosted by Dana Bash.


CNN’s 1 p.m. hour, “CNN Right Now,” is listed alongside “CNN Tonight” as straight-news programs, according to the network’s website, which has other shows itemized in an “interview and debate” category.

CNN has been accused of taking an anti-Trump approach to news, but it hasn’t translated to ratings success.

Kanye West and the damaging way we talk about celebrities and mental health

The conversation surrounding Kanye West’s mental health during his visit to the White House raises issues of how the public scrutinizes celebrities with mental illnesses. The following essay was first published earlier in 2018.

A Twitter user known as @cakefacedcutie tweeted out a photo in late June of Saturday Night Life star Pete Davidson arm in arm with his new girlfriend, the pop star Ariana Grande. Davidson’s face is obscured from the camera by the hood of his plaid jacket; Grande, licking a lollipop, gazes at him with adoration. Printed over Davidson’s face are the words “Men that need therapists”; Grande is annotated with the word “Me.”

The photo struck a nerve, rapidly racking up more than 30,000 retweets. It wasn’t hard to see why. Davidson, who has been open about being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and Grande spent the month of June in the news as their relationship progressed from new romance to cohabitation and engagement. Given that Davidson is open about living with borderline personality disorder, many found it easy to interpret his whirlwind romance as the product of mental illness.

Davidson isn’t the only celebrity with a mental illness who’s been in the media spotlight of late. A few weeks before Davidson and Grande got together, the openly bipolar Kanye West drew attention for a frenzied burst of Twitter activity and some shocking political statements. And in early June, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two celebrities who suffered from depression, died by suicide within a few days of each other.

As someone who lives with mental illness (specifically, a well-managed case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD), it’s frustrating to watch when the behavior of celebrities grappling with their mental health is treated as fodder for the celebrity gossip mill. Few outlets show any consideration for how their coverage contributes to misunderstandings and misinformation about mental illness, let alone how it affects the lives of the people who are the subjects of the articles.

The stigma of mental illness has led to bad media habits

Covering mental illness will always be a fraught endeavor. Most of us are more familiar with the stereotypes about mental illness than the facts, and people who live with mental illness deal with a stigma that positions them as unfixable, untrustworthy, and totally broken. As a result, coverage of mental health is often problematic.

But so long as celebrities’ personal lives are considered newsworthy, it’s a challenge we’ll have to deal with. So how do we in the general public and in the media talk about the mental health of celebrities in a way that’s respectful and thoughtful, and, above all, doesn’t actively harm both celebrities and everyday people dealing with mental illness?

When their antics are deemed entertaining, they’re egged on and encouraged; when they turn self-destructive, they’re chided for not taking better care of themselves. Mental illness most frequently enters the conversation in the wake of violence or suicide, reinforcing a bleak, simplistic portrayal of what is often a complex collection of conditions.

Frustratingly, most of the public demonstrates only the most superficial, sensationalistic understanding of what mental illnesses even are, one that’s frequently informed more by stereotype than by fact. (I may have OCD, but I’m not, as many believe, obsessed with counting or cleanliness — my OCD manifests as obsessive violent thoughts and worrying about social situations.) Because so many Americans follow celebrity news closely, these depictions are crucial in shaping how we all view mental illness generally.

We need to tread carefully when attributing people’s behavior to mental illness

It’s not hard to imagine that there must be a better way to write about these issues. But what might that look like?

Jenn Brandel, a social worker, thinks that a little bit of media training could go a long way. In media coverage of celebrity antics, it’s not uncommon for terms like “manic episode” or “borderline” to get thrown around as a shorthand for bad judgment and wild behavior, reinforcing negative stereotypes. Taking the time to define these terms, as they are used in a clinical context, can help chip away at this stigma.

Brandel also advises against presuming that every unconventional decision a person with mental illness makes is automatically connected to their diagnosis. Is Davidson’s whirlwind romance driven by some borderline personality disorder–influenced impulsivity, or Kanye’s Twitter meltdown an indication of a manic episode? Perhaps. But you don’t have to have a mental illness to engage in impulsive behavior, and plenty of people living with mental illness are thoughtful, kind, and well-behaved.

Treating someone’s mental illness as their primary decision-maker is reductive, and fuels the notion that people are defined by, and incapable of overcoming, their diagnosis — when it’s just one part of a multifaceted identity.

Because of this, it’s wrong to assume that someone is living with a mental illness just because you think they’re acting oddly. Casual armchair diagnoses of “bipolar” or “OCD” may seem harmless, but they rely on stereotypes that reinforce the stigma around mental illness.

People with mental illnesses are not curiosities to be observed and studied. Giving them — especially celebrities who have a large platform — the chance to share their perspective can offer much-needed nuance to our discussions of mental health.

Beyond the discussion of mental health, there’s a larger question of why we love to turn celebrities’ darkest moments into entertainment. It’s possible that writing off these public “meltdowns” as the byproduct of mental illness allows us to feel superior to the people who seem to have it all, that dismissing the powerful and wealthy as “crazy” helps us feel more secure in our own lives.

But that kind of attitude comes at a cost to our empathy — and our understanding of mental health in general. Perhaps it would be better if we stopped treating celebrities’ personal lives like a reality show, obsessing over every detail of their potentially unhealthy antics. You don’t have to have a mental illness to go on a Twitter rampage or make rash decisions about your romantic life, but if you do have such an illness, having those behaviors amped up by the media isn’t going to help.

It’s probably best for celebrities’ mental health if we stop treating them as an essential part of the 24-hour news cycle. It would also be better for the mental health of readers for whom that bit of celebrity gossip hits a little too close to home.