England debutant Ollie Robinson faces an uncertain international future after racist, sexist and Islamophobic tweets were uncovered. Those excusing it as ‘immaturity’ don’t understand the impact this has on the targets and cricket. It’s time to stop the excuses and severely punish offenders, writes RYAN VREDE.
On Wednesday evening, Robinson fronted up to the media to apologise for his tweets, which included: ‘I wonder if Asian people put smileys like this ¦) #racist’; ‘My new muslim friend is the bomb. #wheeyyyyy’; ‘Real n—– don’t let the microwave hit 0:00’; and ‘Wash your fingers for the mingers #cuban’.
When compared with some of the racist, sexist and Islamophobic bile that populates social media and the comments section of various digital-media platforms, Robinson’s offerings read like laddish banter. There are nuanced levels to prejudice, but there are no excuses for it on any level.
Robinson described his behaviour as ‘thoughtless’. In reality, they were thoughtful and clinically achieved their intended purpose of hurting, shaming, ridiculing and dehumanising the targets.
Robinson also warped the truth when he said being released from his Yorkshire contract (for what the club described as a ‘number of unprofessional actions’) shaped his state of mind at the time. That happened in 2014, two years after the tweets in question.
This compounded what was already a hard-to-watch post-match defence of these tweets, which he posted as an 18- and 19-year-old in 2012 and 2013. For the most part he said all the right things. And while I have no insight into his sincerity, I was left feeling deeply unsatisfied.
Perhaps it was the robotic nature of the delivery. It felt like a public-relations exercise. Robinson was told about the tweets being uncovered after the day’s play, and the urgency of preparing a statement and fronting up to the media may have contributed to his delivery.
He said it all hadn’t settled in properly and he’d think about it more deeply once he got back to the hotel. I wait in anticipation of a more considered explanation.
That explanation, I’d make an educated guess based on a number of similar cases across sport in the past, will include rhetoric about how immature he was at the time.
I’ve grown tired of this being the cornerstone of a defence for abuse of any kind. It is among the most selfish of all defences because it seeks to turn the focus inward, when the act of abuse had only external focal points.
Asking the victims of your abuse to be content with hurting while you’re healing is unacceptable. They aren’t served in any way by this defence. And, if part of the intended outcome is not to get a degree of closure for victims of such abuse, then what the hell is the point of such cases?
In this context, Robinson’s career can’t go on without serious consequences. More critically, his life can’t go on without serious consequences. I don’t believe these consequences should be vindictive. They must be designed to rehabilitate him, should he be open to this.
Who he is as a man trumps who he is as a cricketer. As a man, he needs serious intervention in this area of his life. If that intervention includes significant consequences for his career, so be it. If he is truly sorry, he will accept these consequences and learn the accompanying lessons, using these to transform his heart and mind.
The alternative is that he gets angry and bitter about being exposed, and the effects that exposure will have on his career. This will speak to a still existent and deep-rooted emotional immaturity, which means he has the potential to cause further hurt in future. Cricket doesn’t need these types of men.
The focus must be primarily on serving the victims of the abuse, and if the pursuit of that end has serious implications for the abuser, that must be considered as a natural part of the process, not an exceptional one.
The ECB has issued a statement saying they have a zero-tolerance stance on any discrimination. I wait to see whether that stance translates into consequences for Robinson, especially since his tweets were uncovered on the same day England wore black shirts with the slogans ‘CRICKET IS A GAME FOR EVERYONE’, ‘WE STAND TOGETHER AGAINST RACISM’ and ‘WE STAND TOGETHER AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA’ during a ‘moment of unity’ before the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand.
A zero-tolerance stance would include very little consideration for when Robinson posted the tweets. Cricket can’t take responsibility for the failings of Robinson’s parents, or the impact his social environment had on shaping his attitude towards non-whites, women, Asians or Muslims.
It can only make a strong example of the player on the basis of the evidence that exists. This is what needs to happen.
Failing that, the ‘immaturity’ defence becomes an entrenched precedent in similar future cases. All this while the victims of that apparent ‘immaturity’ suffer without closure.