Wednesday 26 July 2017

Richard Sadlier: Breaking code of omerta is key to defeating sexism

If there was any initial laughter following Chris Gayle’s live televised interview with Network Ten reporter Mel McLaughlin last week, it has well and truly died by now
If there was any initial laughter following Chris Gayle’s live televised interview with Network Ten reporter Mel McLaughlin last week, it has well and truly died by now
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

A former team-mate of mine would often adopt a specific line of enquiry with the female members of hotel catering staff. After meals, he would begin with a general question about the range of fruit available from the kitchen.

There might be a brief exchange about the merits of particular fruits but it was merely a preamble in the build-up to his epic punchline. We knew it was coming and maybe the woman in question did too.

"Have you got a nice pear?" he would ask, doing his best to keep the smirk off his face. Juvenile, harmless, sexist, funny, immature, rude or unprofessional? Whatever, it got a laugh from the table every time, particularly from me.

If there was any initial laughter following Chris Gayle's live televised interview with Network Ten reporter Mel McLaughlin last week, it has well and truly died by now. The West Indies cricketer has been fined $Aus10,000 (around €6,500) and reprimanded for his behaviour. Some Cricket Australia officials are said to want Gayle suspended, while Australian cricket great Ian Chappell called on CA to propose a worldwide contracting ban to the ICC, in addition to banning Australian clubs from hiring him again.

During the interview Gayle told McLaughlin she had beautiful eyes and asked her out for a drink before saying "don't blush, baby". He has since dismissed it as a joke and gave a typical non-apology apology, saying he regretted if McLaughlin had taken offence and that there was no harm done. McLaughlin accepted this and welcomed the conversation the incident has sparked. It's about sexism and equality and attitudes towards women in professional sport.

According to reports, this behaviour is not out of character for Gayle. I assume people don't need to be told it isn't an isolated incident for women who work in sport either, or indeed for women anywhere, but there was an interesting contribution from Chris Rogers, a former team-mate of Gayle's. Fox Sports reporter Neroli Meadows said she hoped people would stop laughing at Gayle and his antics, but according to Rogers his team-mates did so long ago.

Speaking about their time together at Sydney Thunder, Rogers said he would keep his distance from Gayle if the team were on a night out. He saw him in action and "wasn't a fan", and was wary of the influence Gayle may have been having on the team's younger players. He would regularly challenge them on what they thought of how Gayle was acting. "And all of them," explained Rogers, "all the young guys, to give them credit, were like 'No, we don't think this is right'."

The specifics of his behaviour aren't necessary - though it wouldn't be hard to imagine what it may have entailed - it is most unusual for a team-mate to speak with such clarity in a situation like this. He didn't look to condone Gayle's behaviour or brush it off in any way and he didn't say anything about stars being flawed or some garbage like that.

There was nothing either about the trade-off between on-field contributions and off-field behaviour or an attempt to ease the pressure on someone he personally knew. Rogers said he knew Gayle's antics were out of order when they played together and that he warned the dressing room not to follow his lead. And now in public he's saying there should be zero tolerance for how Gayle acts. If there is an omerta in cricket locker rooms Rogers smashed it to pieces.

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There were dozens of other anecdotes that could have opened a column like this and they would have all reflected the culture that existed at the time. There were obviously several exceptions and not everyone acted like that but the prevailing view towards women was not one of equality and respect. But however people behaved back then and regardless of the passage of time, publicly criticising team-mates for specifics rarely happens. If someone is under pressure the instinctive response is to come to their defence. And if you can't say anything supportive, say nothing at all.

If the reputation of the sport in Australia or the integrity of CA was his concern, then it was right for Rogers to say Gayle is a repeat offender. He wasn't alone, of course, as several members of the media have spoken out in the past week about their own experiences with Gayle.

Cricket isn't the only sport with a culture of sexism to address, but it will require more than punishing one culprit to expect things to improve. There are several ways to tackle this issue but meaningful progress takes time. If more spoke out like Rogers when they had something to say things might change fairly fast.

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