Getting to the Root of homophobia in cricket

Harry Parsons and Phil Etchells discuss Joe Root's reaction to Shannon Gabriel's homophobic comment and the presence of homophobia in cricket.

Harry Parsons
18th February 2019
Image- Wikimedia Commons

After the stump microphone inadvertently caught Joe Root's composed response to a homophobic comment from Shannon Gabriel, our writers discuss the issue of homophobia in cricket.

Phil Etchells-

"The ICC must address homophobia in cricket". These are the words of Chris Sherwood, of Graces CC, the “world’s first LGBT cricket club”. They come a few days after West Indian cricketer, Shannon Gabriel, was charged for an “inappropriate comment” aimed at England captain, Joe Root.

Now admitting he asked Root, “Do you like boys?”, Root’s immediate response of “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” has been highly praised. Showing leadership and integrity, as well as a touch of professional class, Root quickly downplayed the incident saying, “I just did what I thought was right”. But to have a role model, such as the England captain, standing up against what he saw as homophobic abuse is critical if this sort of unacceptable behaviour is to be stamped out of the game.

Homophobia is still an issue in cricket. Given that homosexuality is illegal in five of the top ten cricketing nations - there is a prison sentence up to 10 years for any sexual activity between men in some countries of the West Indies - there is clearly work to be done. According to Sherwood, the ICC have a responsibility to tackle homophobia in the game. “They have very clear guidelines and disciplinary procedures when it comes to racism, (however) the same cannot be said for homophobia”.

Graces CC, originally founded in London in 1996 as a supporters’ club, arguably is leading the way in challenging stereotypes in the game. “We exist to provide an opportunity for people to watch and play cricket irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. Our vision is to assert upon the cricketing and wider sporting community an ideal of total equality and inclusion”. Their work, as well as other initiatives such as the ‘Rainbow Laces’ (where players, umpires and even the stumps are donned with rainbow coloured stripes) are wonderful ways to raise awareness of this issue and promote acceptance in sport.

Nevertheless, straight allies to the LGBTQ community are perhaps one of the biggest inspirations to breaking down ignorance in sport. What’s seen by our sporting heroes on TV at the weekend is very often repeated in the school yard and on pitches on Monday morning. When there are people like Joe Root who stand up for themselves and others it sends a powerful message to everyone; that there are sportswomen and sportsmen who will stand in solidarity with those who experience these derogatory slurs. After Politics and Media, Sport is arguably the most influential catalyst for changing culture. We need more clubs like Graces CC, who are involved in the community and promoting a love of sport as well as a love for our fellow competitors. We need sporting institutions to do more to combat the inappropriate behaviour from grassroots level to professional sport. But perhaps what we need most are more sportspeople to stand up and speak out against ignorance and inequality - and be our role models. Only when we change our attitudes at every level, from the Olympics to the office, and from the stadium to the school yard, will we change the culture for the better.

Harry Parsons-

While on the field during England’s third test against the West Indies last week, TV Cameras and stump microphones picked up on England Captain Joe Root saying, to the opposing side’s fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, “don’t use it as an insult, there’s nothing wrong with being gay”.

The mics didn’t pick up what caused him to say to that. It has since emerged that Gabriel asked Root “whether [he] liked boys?” as a sort of obscure insult which only brings into question, the asker of said questions insecurities. Joe Root, in interviews later on, was calm and seemed unwilling to talk about the incident, suggesting it needn’t be discussed any further. Root did not know that the stump mic would pick up his words. He didn’t know the clip would go viral. He didn’t know that TV and Radio coverage would pick up on the incident while cricket was still being played.

Gabriel has since apologised for his comments, but he can keep that apology. The words Root used, as an off the cuff rebuttal, and the challenge he made I’m sure are used around the world in all forms of sport, all the time. But you don’t need to use a microscope to find homophobia in the sporting world. Openly gay sportsmen are hard to come by and the problems are deep rooted. But Roots’ comment gives us something that many of us needed. He gave people a simple, easy message. Don’t be a bigot.

Young LGBT+ people watch sport. We watch it, we enjoy it, and we grow up with it and its culture. When you’re a 21 year old, openly gay man, sat in an away end at a 3PM kick-off and you hear homophobic slurs aimed at nobody in particular, is it disheartening? Sure. Hurtful? Yeah. Easy to move past? After a pint with your friends; probably. When you’re not lucky enough to be out, proud and surrounded by people who support and appreciate you, it’s harder to hear. When you’re young and adore sport but you’re still working out exactly who you are and who exactly you might fancy, you need to know that that is okay.

And it is a heart-breaking shame that young people are forced to watch cowards who dress up like role models, people like Shannon Gabriel, use the idea of homosexuality as some sort of insult. However, much to Gabriel’s dismay I’m sure, Joe Root showed that it’s easy to challenge bigotry. It’s easy to do it because it’s the right thing, not because you want a flood of praise. Cricket is at the forefront of brilliant developments in sport. But this doesn’t have to be that deep. Shannon Gabriel is lame. Joe Root is just an all-round top bloke.

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