There must surely be a creeping anxiety spreading thoughout the English cricket team – what tweets from their teenage years lie like time bombs waiting to be discovered? What adolescent thought crimes may slip out of the long forgotten murky past to destroy their career?
I was thinking about my own past, teenage years and childhood. I once drank cider underage in a pub. I once put a bet on a horse, a shilling, underage as a teen. But the event where I really went off the rails happened when I was about 11.
I grew up in South West London, near Wimbledon Common. One night when it was about 11pm, long after we had been put to bed on a school night, I convened ‘my gang’. There were four of us and more ‘Just William’ than contemporary Brixton.
Our escapade involved putting a duffle bag and a mop in my bed to disguise the fact that I wasn’t there anymore, and shinning down the drain pipe outside my bedroom window to meet my friends – the gang. Sadly the evening ended up with an act of vandalism.
In mitigation, we were a bunch of socially responsible vigilante kids, trying to create a speed trap to deter cars from racing down a hill. It involved unscrewing a particular car aerial and extending it across the road, where it would be hit, too small to be seen by the offending car, and then slow the car to a stop as the driver wondered what the noise was. But that night the unscrewable aerial was not there and so…..
I obviously don’t want to incriminate myself. But even before my parents had discovered what I had actually been up to, shinning up the drain pipe I found the bedclothes pulled back, my subterfuge exposed. I went downstairs to face the music. My father caned me and, much much worse, stopped my pocket money for six months to pay for the damage.
I was lucky I didn’t get into trouble with the police. I was lucky my adolescent stupidity didn’t mark my card longer than it did. But the Christian culture I grew up in allowed penitence, sorrow, changes of direction and forgiveness.
But something has changed. It’s no longer about what you did. It’s what you thought – or what they think you thought.
I’m not about to be selected for the English cricket team, but if I was, today, someone might start looking into my past. Like all of us, they would find stuff I was ashamed of, stuff I had put behind me, stuff I had repudiated, and stuff I had forgotten. What a lucky break there was no Twitter when I was growing up. Because the first place everyone looks today is social media like Facebook or Twitter.
Sadly for Ollie Robinson, who had just been selected to play cricket for England, Twitter and his teenage years just overlapped.
He put out some silly, daft and, if you understand them, somewhat offensive tweets when he was 18. Like a lot of teen jokes, other people didn’t find them very funny. Some people would have been made very cross by some of them.
But then adolescents push the boundaries, don’t they. That’s what that period of life is supposed to be about.
This is what he wrote:-
“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”.”
On a scale of the offensive 1-10, I think they might hit about 4 in my judgement. If you are any of the above mentioned then you might be annoyed. But let’s try the boot on the other foot for a moment. I’m white so no one can be racist towards me (according to our social rules). But the thing I really dislike is being accused of toxic masculinity. Let’s imagine for a moment that the captain of the England women’s cricket team was to have a record of fulminating against toxic blokes. I might be irritated by it but I think I would just hope she could redirect whatever had annoyed her into playing better cricket. I would be mortified if she was sacked or dropped just because she offended me – and my kind.
The rapid river that is cultural change and has become cultural wokism, has turned out to have many unpleasant features to it, not least a brutality when it comes to forgiveness – because there isn’t any.
Astonishingly for an ideology steeped in the naive optimism of Rousseau which assumes that education and cultural improvement can make anyone better, no allowance is made for change.
Ollie Robinson grovelled – which wasn’t enough, apologised that it was a long time ago when he was 18 – again, not enough, that he had changed and improved his views – also not enough, and was professionally destroyed.
As Joni Mitchell so captivatingly crooned when I was a kid, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…. they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
The moral concrete of this ‘parking lot’ is an unyielding surface of ethical un-forgiveness on which we break our existential bones as we stumble and fall; and having fallen are held down and crushed by the moral disapproval of the woke.
It’s not clear in this brave new world of moral relativism what business a cricket selection board has in policing the ethical character of spin bowlers or ace batsmen. Who decided and when exactly did it happen that a qualification for playing sport for your country, or any team, required correct group-think?
Christians, and humanists even, ought to be up in arms in righteous indignation in the face of this pseudo-moral wokism claiming it has a right to police moral character in the public space.
The new zeitgeist that came quietly amongst us has lulled us into a false confidence that it is virtuous because it claims to be morally responsible. But not all moral stances are responsible just because they claim to be moral.
Whenever secularism apes religion, it unfailingly borrows traits that are bad and cruel from religiosity, and ignores what is good and noble.
It is bad and cruel to punish a man for his teenage excesses. It is bad and cruel to tell a sportsman who once had a stupid sense of humour that he is too corrupt to represent us in entertaining sport.
It is bad and cruel for sports coaches and administrators to claim moral qualifications they don’t have and should not be permitted to use. It is bad and cruel to withhold forgiveness.
But as always, as the last century should have taught us over and over again, all it takes for evil to prosper at the hands of people taking actions that are bad and cruel, is for the well-informed and well-inclined to do nothing.