The ECB made the correct decision to suspend Ollie Robinson for racist, sexist and Islamophobic tweets. What they decide to do next is critical because it sets a precedent for others to follow, writes RYAN VREDE.
Last Wednesday evening, Test debutant 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’.
This past Sunday, the ECB announced that Robinson was suspended from all international cricket pending an investigation into the Twitter messages, which were posted in 2012 and 2013.
I assume the investigation will have a relatively narrow scope, allowing room for Robinson to share his perspectives and to offer historic and situational context. Context matters, but immaturity shouldn’t be a mitigating factor in these cases.
I wrote last week: ‘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.’
The ECB has taken heavy fire for its stance from conservative media, as well as political and public figures with a conservative worldview. The most prominent critic has been sports minister Oliver Dowden, who tweeted: ‘Ollie Robinson’s tweets were offensive and wrong. They are also a decade old and written by a teenager. The teenager is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has subsequently supported Dowden, as has TV personality Piers Morgan, who tweeted: ‘Very interesting intervention. I agree with Mr Dowden,’ in response to Dowden’s condemnation of the sanction.
The absurdity of middle-aged, conservative white men weighing in on issues of racial, sexual or religious discrimination is striking. More perplexing is that their focus is entirely on how a suspension and possible ban has affected/will affect the perpetrator of the acts of discrimination, rather than the effect Robinson’s words had on his targets. For a government official to exploit their power through a thinly veiled ‘… [they] should think again’ threat to the ECB is disgusting.
Time doesn’t diminish the impact those words have, neither is it a guarantee that Robinson has matured, as his supporters want us to believe. Evidence should trump emotion. There is evidence of discrimination. Where is the evidence of Robinson’s supposed emotional maturity? Nobody, not least of all Robinson, has been able to offer any.
This may yet emerge in the process of the investigation, and such evidence should then inform the severity of his punishment. Right now, his supporters offer that support in the absence of evidence, but guided only by the flawed assertion that time equals emotional maturity.
Nonetheless, the ECB is under tremendous pressure from those with conservative sensibilities to abandon their investigation and let Robinson off with a slap on the wrist. ‘Naughty racist. Now, as you were.’
This must not happen. The sporting world is watching this case with great interest and will be guided by this precedent in any future cases. The ECB must not fold under the pressure of those with little to no understanding of the hurt, the effects of which often endure for a lifetime, such discrimination causes.
As I write this, Wisden has already uncovered racists tweets from another current England player. They were posted when he was 15, hence the publication has opted not to name him. It is likely he will be exposed, at which point conservatives will blame ‘woke culture’ for exposing a teenager who was just, well, being a kid.
Where do we draw the line, you ask? I’d say we draw the line when a group or groups are dehumanised by someone who knew better but consciously chose to not to do better, like Robinson undoubtedly did. And even if Robinson’s attitude was shaped by inadequate parenting or his social environment, cricket’s job is not to reparent and coddle him.
The ECB is in the spotlight. I hope they don’t melt under the heat of conservative scrutiny.