The Gayle thing

I was watching the other night when Chris Gayle made his now-infamous comments to Mel McLaughlin coming off the ground in a BBL game, including a suggestion that they should catch up after the game for a drink. He did it with a laugh, and perhaps a leer, a jest that contained an opportunistic truth. It was uncomfortable viewing, with McLaughlin obviously discomforted, and Gayle obviously oblivious.

You don’t need me to tell you that there’s been an uproar since. It’s led news bulletins, produced countless headlines and articles, and social media has had a field day with it. Gayle has been reprimanded and penalised and faced the media where he made an unconvincing apology. I’ve watched it unfold without comment, feeling uncomfortable with the whole thing. I’ve had to take time to consider what happened, and what my feelings tell me.

Thirty years ago, Gayle would have got away with this sort of behaviour. In fact, he probably would have been seen as a bit of a lad, and any discomfort the subject felt dismissed as taking things too seriously. Gayle is of that time. He is part of a West Indian sporting culture where I imagine exhibitions of testosterone are admired. Thirty years ago his compatriots toured here as heroes, and tales of their off-field seats are legion. But that was thirty years ago, and we’ve progressed a long way since then.

Still, some men act like that all the time in pubs and clubs across the country. It’s ugly to behold, and not a little stupid, but the subject then has the option of throwing her the contents of her glass in his face.

Gayle, I suspect, is uneducated – or is unenlightened? – in respect of women. He’s a celebrity, a big, good looking man who has a big bat. He travels the world hitting the ball over the fence, for which he gets paid a lot. He is feted everywhere, and, if the stories are to be believed (which I do), has no trouble collecting companions along the way. In other words, he lives in a very exclusive bubble. Nothing much gets into that bubble, little chance to be educated or enlightened until something like this happens.

He claimed yesterday that it was just a joke, and I believe he sees it that way – what he doesn’t understand how inappropriate and demeaning a ‘joke’ it is. I’m sure he is incapable of perceiving his remarks as offensive, such is the rarefied air in his bubble. Regardless of his money and fame, he’s a yobbo and a bit of a sleaze at the end of the day. It’s not much to be admired for, but there’s no law against it.

Of course, the true ‘crime’ in all this is that he hit on Mel McLaughlin before a national audience of probably close to a million people, while she was trying to do her job.

There are at least two issues with this. In the first place, it devalues McLaughlin as a professional broadcaster. It’s an issue of respect. Secondly, McLaughlin doesn’t have the option to throw her drink in Gayle’s face. She can’t just walk away. He has her trapped attempting to be professional before a national audience. Essentially, this is workplace harassment.

It gave me pause to think of the times I’ve flirted with women working as bartenders or waitresses and suchlike, the women I’ve met in my leisure time while they’re performing their job. You think little of it at the time. I’m never the type to be crass or insensitive. I’ll share a joke, indulge in some intelligent byplay, flirt as she flirts with me. There’ve never been any issues, and in fact, I’ve met and gone out with women after meeting like that.

It’s a little bit different, but not entirely different, but what makes it really tricky is that we’re man and woman. A woman – a person – should feel safe going about their job without being harassed. At the same time, things happen, chemicals react, and so on. As I think about it, the key components are respect and permission.

It’s okay for me to flirt with the local bartender if I do it respectfully, and she gives me permission to do so. These are the two privileges that Gayle denied McLaughlin.

So, Gayle has been reprimanded, penalised, and hopefully, there are attempts to re-educate him. McLaughlin has accepted his apology, and that should be the end of it. It hasn’t been though, and this is what really troubles me.

About a month ago a current footballer allegedly intimidated a woman physically with a pair of chopsticks, threatening to kill her. Ultimately the story died away, and I don’t know if he’s been penalised at all. For me, this is the more serious charge, but it went away because – I believe – there’s no footage, and the alleged victim refused to appear on camera. In other words, there was no sexy footage to run with.

The Chris Gayle incident led the news bulletins as if it was the most serious news of the day. It was only because it was the most sensational, and because they had the footage to prove it. It’s been subject to a multitude of column inches, comments and endless opinions. It’s legitimate news, but on the scale of meaningful news, it falls down the scale.

For me, this is an example whereby the news is the news. The frenzy is less about Gayle’s transgressions, and much more about the reaction it has provoked. It’s like a mob getting the whiff of something and reacting to it in its mindless way, catching hold and spreading like wildfire, the thing growing beyond its boundaries. That describes social media very well, but in the mainstream media, it’s much more calculating: it’s a rating winner, let’s blow it up and see where it goes.

Naturally, social media was all over this in its indiscriminate way, and with it, the usual social bullying. Someone is identified as having acted inappropriately, and the weight of the social media opprobrium comes down upon them. It’s quite a thing, comment after comment going after a character, tearing them apart online. Chris Gayle has form and is a creep, but the bullying started to make me sorry for him. He’s done wrong, but now he’s vilified by an entire society and isolated a long way from his home.

I realised that I’d been guilty of social bullying in the past myself. There are so many reprehensible acts by people these days which before would have been hidden from view, but in this connected world are now shared with millions of people in every corner of the globe. You read these things and feel sufficiently shocked or outraged to retweet or comment on yourself. You become part of it.

There’s a good example of this yesterday. In America, a woman complained on Facebook about how her new years eve was ruined by someone at another table having a selfish and inconvenient heart attack. She expanded further, implicating herself more deeply with every word. It was ugly and insensitive, and someone shared her post, and before you know it’s gone viral, and everyone is beating on this woman.

I’d have been inclined to take a swing myself, except that the Gayle thing had me thinking twice. Let’s get some perspective. Gayle’s a boor, and behaviour such as his shouldn’t be countenanced this day and age – but it wasn’t criminal. Likewise, the woman. She’s probably a small-minded, hard-hearted woman, but does her crime merit the abuse and bullying from all over the world?

I’m not going to be part of this anymore. I’m not a bully, and I don’t want to be part of a mob – which is what this equates to. I’ll still shake my head but won’t join in the kicking. There are far worse things happening in the world. Besides, everyone has the right to a second chance.

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