Last week was one of contrast for Sussex cricketer Ollie Robinson with the joy of his successful England debut matched with the ignominy of various historic offensive posts he had made on Twitter coming to light during his debut test match appearance.
The tweets in question that Ollie Robinson posted were abhorrent and rightly caused outrage, but he did sincerely apologise for them and has shown a genuine attitude to want to educate himself and be a better person. So I’m not really sure why this needs to go any further?
The fact they’re historic, he was much younger then and they were not made when he was a public figure are also very relevant here. If he’d sent them in the weeks in the lead up to his England debut I don’t think an apology would be sufficient. But the context here is very different, our response to this type of thing often ignores such context and is far too vindictive.
People like Ollie Robinson who’ve made the kind of offensive tropes and stereotypes he did, of course need to be put right. Not only for their benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of the people who those kind of remarks harm. But do we need to gang up like some kind of mob and put his head on a spike to prove a point? That’s not fighting for equality, that’s just seeking vengeance.
At my school in the 1990s and 2000s, like many, the kind of tropes he used were regularly banded about on the playground and in classrooms. I particularly remember many kids insulting others by calling them “gay” and I don’t remember one teacher calling kids out on it. I do however remember a teacher being effectively hounded out of the school by pupils and teachers for being openly gay. Whilst I also remember one occasion at primary school where two boys were punished because they kissed each other. Schools weren’t to be seen to encourage such things in those days, but times have thankfully changed.
I think football is a good example here too, where in the 1970s and 1980s many of the people attending matches would precede to racially abuse black footballers or direct homophobia towards Justin Fashanu and others. These people haven’t disappeared, most have just learned better behaviours and learned better of those attitudes.
In 1988 when section 28 was introduced, a British law that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities, a survey found 75% of the population thought that homosexual activity was “always or mostly wrong”. And that legislation was only repealed in 2003. Views change and move on for the better. As a society we need to start recognising that more.
Banishing Ollie Robinson from Cricket would be like pretending none of us have ever said or done anything offensive…. Well, I’m calling out bullshit on that one.
The former England Cricketer Mark Ramprakash spoke eloquently on the subject on BBC Breakfast and made a good comparison when referencing Boris Johnson’s more recent offensive comments about Muslims. But he’s now our Prime minister, was then a huge public figure and yet failed to show even a fraction of the sincerity in his apology that Ollie Robinson did.
Boris Johnson and one of his cabinet members Oliver Dowden called the ECB’s decision to suspend Robinson an overreaction. But then again given the Prime minister’s track record with offensive remarks, he would think that. But as Mark Ramprakash said in his BBC interview the ECB had little choice or would have been seen to not have taken evidence of racism and discrimination seriously. I think it is more a sign of how poorly their due diligence was prior to his selection that they are effectively having to now play catch up.
But in contrast to Boris Johnson’s brash ignorance on the subject, Ollie Robinson showed the correct amount of regret in his public apology that I would be surprised (assuming the subsequent ECB investigation finds no further fault on his part it) if the ECB and the England team aren’t willing to welcome him back.
Furthermore it would be an incredibly powerful image to see Ollie Robinson, following his apology, welcomed back into the England team, one of mixed ethnicities and backgrounds. That’s the sort of healing our society needs right now, not more ignorance and acts of vengeance.