On what planets do results matter more than racially insensitive behaviour? Those arguing Mark Boucher’s case on the basis of an upturn in results need to seriously examine their morals, writes RYAN VREDE.
To think, all Paul Adams wanted was an apology. The former Proteas spinner who, through his testimony at the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SNJ) hearings, implicated Boucher in what was at best racially insensitive behaviour directed towards him when they were teammates.
Boucher, Adams testified, was one of the leaders of a group who sang a change-room song that referred to Adams as a “brown s**t”.
Initially, Boucher denied any involvement, then, under immense scrutiny and public pressure released a statement that showed little self-awareness, arguing that he never gave Adams the nickname. Adams never accused him of doing so.
Adams said: “I’m just highlighting that it should never happen and if we take this forward in the right way, we will have a lot more respect for each other,” he explained. “Maybe he [Boucher] should come and say sorry.”
It would have taken a phone call from Boucher to avoid the legal and moral mess he is now at the centre of.
This is how that conversation should have gone: “Hi Paul, it’s Mark here. I listened to your testimony at the SJN and I wanted to say I’m sorry for contributing to your awful experience. At the time, I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand how that song would have been hurtful to you. But I’ve grown since, and I know now what I didn’t know then. I hope you can accept my apology, but if it’s too raw now, I’ll wait for as long as you need to heal.”
Yet, even that was too much to ask a man who seemingly has the emotional intelligence of a seven-year-old. It is safe to assume that, from an EQ perspective, Boucher hasn’t moved an inch from the place he was when he was leading that vile song. His disastrous handling of the kneeling issue recently supports my assertion.
In the wake of Adams’ testimony, Boucher came out fighting. This fight came in the form of his legal team sending two affidavits to the transformation ombudsman of the SJN hearings, Dumisa Ntsebeza, in mid-August 2021. In one affidavit, he apologises unreservedly for any offense and hurt he might have caused during his playing days while, in the other, he vehemently rejects the allegations Adams levelled against him.
The majority of the South African cricket media ran his version of the story as fact. They failed to scrutinise his offerings in any objective detail, and without the requisite empathy for Adams’ experience.
They were equally passive when Boucher’s win percentage hovered around 50 in both Tests and ODIs.
This coach, it appears, gets passes his predecessors would kill for.
The findings of the hearing were released just over a month ago, and it was bad for Boucher. The report strongly recommended that Cricket South Africa launch an investigation into the behaviour that left Adams feeling dehumanised.
CSA did that, and last week charged Boucher with gross misconduct.
Following that announcement, Boucher’s apologists took turns to argue his case. Former Sunday Times sports editor Colin Bryden summed up the intellectually bankrupt and privilege-laden sentiment with a series of tweets that left me stunned.
“Just when SA have a winning, seemingly united cricket team, @OfficialCSA announces that Mark Boucher faces charges of ‘gross misconduct’ which could result in his dismissal. This because of a silly song sung in the dressing room years ago,” he began.
I asked him what results had to do with the allegations against Boucher. I followed up by enquiring when a middle-aged, white man got to decide what was “silly” in this context.
He didn’t respond. He couldn’t, because there are no circumstances under which someone from his background should get to define Adams’ experience.
In a thread that defied belief, he added: “I get that ‘brown s**t’ can be interpreted as racially offensive and was indeed apparently regarded as such by Paul Adams – but only after he spoke to his girlfriend. The nature of fines meetings after sports events is such that good-natured insults are the norm.”
There were myriad factors Bryden wasn’t taking into account which could have resulted in Adams choosing to stay silent, not least of all the power dynamic that existed, one in which Adams could have compromised his career had he said anything.
This, remember, was a very different time. Speaking broadly, black athletes today have been empowered to speak up against any racially insensitive or downright racist behaviour they’re subjected to, without the fear of compromising their careers.
Bryden’s narrow worldview, and those whose views mirror his, doesn’t allow for the possibility that Adams’ experience was authentic and demanded further investigation.
Instead, a Test series victory over India and an excellent performance in the first ODI of the series were cited as being more important than getting justice for Adams. This narrative strengthened after the Proteas locked up the ODI series in Paarl.
I was disturbed to read comment upon comment lamenting the timing of CSA’s charge against Boucher. In essence, that argument prioritises present-day performance ahead of Adams’ humanity. This is deplorable.
Many argued that an organisation as dysfunctional as CSA shouldn’t be allowed to adjudicate Boucher’s behaviour. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve ripped CSA to ribbons for the depth of its dysfunction, but I fail to see how this affects it acting on the findings of an independent review.
Boucher will (rightly) have the opportunity to defend himself in the coming months. If the reporting in many Sunday papers is accurate, that defense will be led by the finest attorneys money can buy.
These papers report that a collection of wealthy businesspeople will bankroll Boucher’s defense. Boucher is benefiting from connections he made as a world-class player.
I’m not sure what Boucher’s endgame is. His defense team could blow CSA’s attorneys away on the technicalities of the case. Boucher may keep his job but will do so knowing he has severed the relationship with his employer. He may want to walk away but do so with the remaining time on his contract paid in full.
Yet, not even the world’s best defence team will get him vindication for the racially insensitive behaviour that is at the heart of this case. He has already eliminated that option by lying about his role in the song, then changing his tune under pressure.
Right now he is benefiting from something money can’t buy – the support of disconcertingly large numbers of people who have allowed their judgement to be compromised by a wave of positive results.
Performance should never trump people. And if it does for you, then you need a performance review of your heart and mind.