I get some strange looks at home from my non-sports loving family when I’m asked occasionally what the best day of my life has been so far. Admittedly, it is a bit provocative to say there’s nothing better than playing cricket at Lord’s; and to be honest getting married and the birth of your children are pretty amazing days (and if I’m not teasing, then it is pretty obvious which wins of course!). However, for anybody who loves cricket, playing at Lord’s will always be there or thereabouts, and I, for one, will never forget the experience. It’s not just the batting, bowling or fielding which make it special, but also all the little experiences around the cricket itself: of seeing the dressing rooms for the first time, with their honours boards from the test matches, of a stroll across the ground to the nursery ground beforehand to warm up; of the walk through the long room between portraits of the best players that have played the game; of the bell tinkling for the start of play; of the gateman allowing you out onto the field; of the dressing room attendant at the end of the first days’ play asking if there is any dirty kit that he can wash overnight ready for the start of day two; of just having a dressing room attendant! With only a few hundred school kids and a handful of friends and relatives watching the Varsity Match, it was hardly the most prestigious event in the Lord’s calendar; but for me, it was three of the most glorious days I can remember.
Last week, a New Zealander called Devon Conway made his test match debut against England. As if playing your first test match was not enough, it must have been amazing for him to have his debut scheduled at Lord’s, and to cap it all; he didn’t just score a century, he scored a double century! These are moments that you take with you every day through life and all the way to your grave and well done to him. At the other end of the pitch, bowling at him for most of that innings, was a 27-year-old man called Ollie Robinson, also making his test match debut at Lords after 10 years as a professional cricketer. What an amazing moment for him, a man who may have thought he would never have the chance, and to grab a couple of wickets on his first day in test cricket would have sent him from the field with a skip in his legs. Imagine his utter dejection, therefore when he got back to the pavilion at the end of one of the best days of his life to find out that the press had got hold of a number of tweets he had made almost a decade ago as an 18-year-old and were splashing them all over the news pages. The tweets were extremely offensive, undeniably racist and sexist, and who knows what possessed him to write these things all those years ago. Instead of a celebratory beer with his teammates, therefore, at the close of play Ollie Robinson was taken out to face the press and release a statement that said this: “On the biggest day of my career so far, I am embarrassed by the racist and sexist tweets that I posted over eight years ago, which have today become public… I deeply regret my actions, and I am ashamed of making such remarks. I was thoughtless and irresponsible, and regardless of my state of mind at the time, my actions were inexcusable. Since that period, I have matured as a person and fully regret the tweets. Today should be about my efforts on the field and the pride of making my Test debut for England, but my thoughtless behaviour in the past has tarnished this. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to turn my life around. I have considerably matured as an adult… I would like to unreservedly apologise to anyone I have offended… I don’t want something that happened eight years ago to diminish the efforts of my teammates and the ECB as they continue to build meaningful action with their comprehensive initiatives and efforts (to eradicate racism and sexism from the game), which I fully endorse and support… I am sorry, and I have certainly learned my lesson today.”
Well, I think that what Ollie Robinson said was the best that he could have done, probably, given the circumstances. However, it is pretty unlikely that people will ever be able to look at him in the same way again.
You can decide for yourself whether or not you think it is fair for a 27-year-old to be judged on something he wrote when he was 18. However, the fact is that he will be by some people. The strange thing about sexist, racist or any other offensive remarks these days is that there is almost always evidence of them having been said. Even on sites where comments disappear pretty quickly, there is usually an evidence trail. The vast majority of you boys in the school are extremely good at being polite online, as indeed you are in person. Moreover, you often call out any offensive behaviour online and stand up for those who have been offended. Well done to you. However, you would not believe some of the things that my senior colleagues and I see written by a small minority of you, things which, like for Ollie Robinson, you will wish later you had not made. The message that I am absolutely sure England’s new fast bowler would want to tell you all is “don’t do an Ollie Robinson”.
You all know the difference between right and wrong; whether it is in person or online, it is the same thing.
Be generous; be kind; don’t think to show off or try to be bigger than anybody else, and you won’t go far wrong. If you would not like your parents to see what you are writing, then don’t write it. And if you’re sitting there and thinking I wish I hadn’t written that, then learn from it and don’t do it again. There is nothing worse than regret, as I’m sure Ollie Robinson found out last week.