Even if Cricket is not your sport, what happened on the pitch in a recent match between the England and West Indies teams will likely make you cheer: an honest and direct clapback to homophobia so well executed, that just maybe there’s a closeted cricket fan in the U.K. who realizes he now has an ally in England’s brave captain.
It was the third day, or “third Test” of their international series, held on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Captain Joe Root responded to a homophobic remark with such swift, sincere directness, that the BBC reported West Indies Bowler Shannon Gabriel was too embarrassed to explain what he’d said, following their match. Only Root’s comeback was picked up by microphones:
“Don’t use it as an insult,” said Root. “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
What was “it?”
It must have been something awful, given that the umpires immediately issued a warning on the field, Gabriel was hustled away and the International Cricket Council decided to ban him for four matches, as well as dock him 75 percent of his pay for the February 11th match.
It took two days, but Gabriel finally clarified what happened, in a written statement of apology to Root, his teammates and to fans.
“I said to Joe Root: ‘Why are you smiling? Do you like boys?’” Gabriel said in the statement.
Gabriel explained he said it during a “tense moment on the field,” and that he now realized — after being banned and losing money — that what he said was wrong.
“I know now that it was offensive and for that I am deeply sorry,” said Gabriel said in his written statement.
”To my teammates and members of the England team, especially their captain Joe Root, I extend an unreserved apology for a comment which in the context of on-the-field rivalry, I assumed was inoffensive sporting banter.”
In other words, “it was just locker-room talk.” How many times have we all heard that excuse? At least in this instance, Gabriel was charged with the personal abuse of a player, player support personnel, umpire or match referee during an international match.
“Language is really influential and it’s great if Joe Root was willing to challenge potentially abusive comments,” said Kirsty Clarke, director of sport at the British LGBTQ charity Stonewall. ”The more players, fans, clubs and organisations that stand up for equality in sport, the sooner we kick discrimination out and make sport everyone’s game,” she told the BBC.
For his part, Root played down the incident, as the Independent reported. He called Gabriel “an emotional guy.” But it should also be noted that in Saint Lucia, any same-sex sexual activity between men can result in a 10-year prison sentence.
Here’s something to make Root really smile: England won the Test match by 232 runs.
Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to non-Cricket fans, but consider this: the captain’s snappy comeback is something we can all aspire to, and now we know he has our backs the next time we come face to face with hate.