Just Not Cricket
Before I commence my run-up, let me just state for the record:
1. I love cricket (much to the bewilderment of anyone born this century) but that’s not why I am writing this
2. I abhor sexism or racism, and the ignorance that underpins them
Ever since social media was invented, I have droned on to the pupils about its perils. I think I am prophetic. They just think I am old. Both are probably right. Online humiliation is not just a trap for the young, of course. Adults are equally adept at firing off ill-considered tweets, sending awkward drunken texts, or sharing cringe-worthy snaps of their anatomy with the whole of cyberspace. However, so-called grown-ups should know better. As my life is spent with adolescents, whose brains are still under construction, I save my sympathy and sermonising for them.
A regular assembly gimmick has been for me to conjure up a day, some years in the future, when they get to final interview for their dream job, but are then surprisingly rejected. I paint the picture of them despondently calling the interviewer afterwards, asking for feedback as to where they went wrong. “It was nothing you did today” this mythical recruiter tells them. “Your qualifications are stellar, your presentation superb. It is just that our background checks revealed some… *pause for effect*… online posts from the past that don’t quite fit our company ethos.”
That’s right, I tell them in my best ‘don’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you’ voice. The stuff you post on social media today is:
a) never private
b) never going to go away
c) never likely to be quite so hysterically witty to a prospective employer ten years hence.
In techspeak, it is called your Regrettable Digital Footprint.
Of course, teenagers have been saying stupid things to impress or scandalise since Adam was a boy. I am sure my friends and I were just as guilty of boorish and bigoted behaviour when we were at school, back in the Dark Ages. The obvious difference being that any moronic insults or shameful jingoism we mouthed off behind the bike sheds were quickly swept away by the wind, never to be heard again. Despite its illusion of transience and anonymity, the internet never cleans house.
And so, to cricket. Specifically, the current case of a rising English star, 27-year-old Ollie Robinson. A young man who achieved his heart’s desire last week, as he strode out onto the hallowed ground at Lords, the home of cricket. Capped to play for his country in his first ever international Test match (and for my fellow sad souls who get excited by such things, he played a blinder that day, taking 7-101 from 42 overs).
Yet while Robinson’s bowling was exposing the opposition batsmen, at the same time his own past was being laid bare online. Lying dormant in the unforgiving memory of the internet were a series of puerile and offensive tweets that he had posted as a teenager. As he sprang to national attention that day, interest in him grew, keyboards rattled, and those childish posts were soon uncovered. He had walked out to the wicket that morning a hero. By stumps, he was a villain.
Today, the news that he has been dropped from playing in the second Test this weekend. As a consequence of historical racist and sexist tweets posted nearly a decade ago, his dream was shattered. I should be pleased; England are playing New Zealand. Our chances of winning the series are significantly enhanced by his absence. But of course, I am not. I am just sad. Sad for Ollie Robinson and for all young people whose awkward adolescence will forever haunt them from the dark recesses of the internet.
Aside from finding the tweets themselves offensive, it is not for me to comment about what sort of person Ollie Robison is. Neither do I have all the facts that the England Cricket Selectors had when making their decision. Youthful indiscretions or the early signs of deep-seated bigotry? Moral leadership or woke over-reaction? Not for me to say.
All I do know is that next time I pull that assembly stunt, I won’t be using a hypothetical job interview. The true story of Ollie Robinson is a much more potent and apocryphal tale of the seductive dangers of putting your every thought (or lack of thought) online when you are young.