West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel was reprimanded by the International Cricket Council for an incident that took place Monday during a Test match against England in St. Lucia. As Gabriel prepared to bowl a delivery, he asked England captain Joe Root: “Why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?” Root responded: “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.” Root’s comment was picked up by the stump microphone.
It was Gabriel’s third on-field incident in the past two years, which gave him eight demerit points, resulting in a four-game suspension. He was also docked 75 percent of his match fee. In a statement that was likely prepared for him, Gabriel said: “I extend an unreserved apology for a comment which in the context of on-the-field rivalry, I assumed was inoffensive and sporting banter. I know now that it was offensive and for that I am deeply sorry.”
A statement from the International Cricket Council, cricket’s world governing body, stated: “Gabriel was found guilty of breaching article 2.13 of the ICC code of conduct … which relates to personal abuse of a player, player support personnel, umpire or match referee during an international match.”
However, Gabriel’s most recent incident is causing many to wonder if political correctness has gotten out of hand. Even the most seemingly innocuous statements can be construed to imply discrimination. To be clear, there is no excuse for abusing anyone verbally or otherwise based on sexual orientation. If Joe Root was openly gay or even rumored to be, I can understand. Root married longtime girlfriend Carrie Cotterell last year after a two-year engagement. They have a 2-year-old son together. So by all indications Shannon’s comment was just normal sledging, which has been a staple of cricket for centuries.
The ICC characterized Gabriel’s comment to Root as “abuse of a player” — but former West Indies star Lawrence Rowe says if stump mics were around during the early part of his career, people would be shocked to hear some of the exchanges between players. “What [Gabriel] said is nothing compared to what used to be said when we played,” says Rowe, who played Test cricket from 1972 to 1980. “When we played against Australia, guys like Dennis Lillee would tell us [profanity] all the time.” Rowe says those comments were confined to the field and rarely resulted in punishment. “Usually the umpire would simply step in and say, ‘Cut it out,’ ” Rowe says.
In Shannon’s case, the on-field umpires reported the incident, thus leading to Shannon’s punishment. However, the fact that part of Shannon and Root’s exchange was picked up by the stump mic shows technology can be a friend or foe. These days very little is private. Cameras are virtually everywhere, giving a visceral perspective to many things that otherwise were just rumored. Road-rage incidents, fights, police confrontations and more populate mediums such as YouTube. It doesn’t mean they never happened before or are happening more frequently. Conjecture has become evidence. So everyone is under the microscope now.
In Shannon’s defense, he didn’t use a gay slur, of which there are many in the lexicon to choose from. So his “do you like boys?” quip doesn’t appear to be tethered with hate. Probably working against him is the fact he has developed a reputation for controversy. He has had “bumping” incidents with opponents on the field and his leisurely pace returning to his bowling run-up has caused the West Indies team some issues with adhering to the proper over-rate. But in this last case, the reaction seems excessive. A warning would have sufficed.
That being said, Rowe has some advice for Gabriel: Do what legendary fast bowlers such as Michael Holding and Andy Roberts used to do. “Mikey and Andy would just give a batsman a look,” Rowe says. “They weren’t vocal. They let the ball do the talking.”