The invisible line between sport and society.

Part of me wants to avoid writing about this topic because it is yet another of those issues where there is no pin in the haystack, just a lot of hay. Too much hay in fact because everyone is writing about it and not a lot will get done because we tend to focus too much on the moment itself without considering the deeper implications that people with agendas, or already sewn up opinions, fail to see, or just blatantly ignore. I’m talking about the Chris Gayle and Mel McLaughlin interview on the BIG BASH last night – written in capital letters because it is so enormously jampacked with entertainment, fireworks and a little bit of cricket.

Now, Mel McLaughlin is a very attractive woman. But first and foremost, she is an outstanding sports presenter and journalist. She handles interviews with aplomb, she was the face of the channel’s coverage of the Winter Olympics and she is charismatic and hardworking. Chris Gayle on the other hand, is a magnificent striker of the ball in cricket. He is also your standard, run of the mill womaniser. He is idolised by kids across the cricketing world, however you only have to look at his Instagram account to gather that he pictures himself as a fun-loving lothario. I’ve never met the man, probably never will, and I’m sure he would be a funny fella to have a few beers with, however perception is reality – the man did not see Mel McLaughlin as someone who was a professional sports presenter, he saw Mel McLaughlin as nothing more than a conquest, or at the very least, a toy to play around with and have a laugh about it later with his friends. Sure, he was having a laugh – but there are connotations that go along with his comments.

His comments, in the video below for context, were divisive for two reasons.

He sent out a come-on on live television, and he made these comments to a female sports reporter. Firstly, when you make comments on live TV you open yourself up to scrutiny. You are not in a nightclub with your mates, mucking around and hitting on a group of girls who are not on your wavelength. I don’t think Chris Gayle cares all that much about the scrutiny because I am 100% sure his comments were premeditated and something that would be a bit of a laugh. He is the stereotypical mate who looks back at his buddies after doing something pretty outrageous and takes your laughter as validation. Look, I am a man, I understand the kick that you get out of something that is seemingly innocuous, but probably deeply uncomfortable for another party and I acknowledge that I have done the very same thing. On that matter, it comes down to the consideration we have for other people. Men are what they are. Many of us are outwardly sex-crazed because it is in our nature. There is admiration for lotharios and womanisers from a young age, classic examples being Wilt Chamberlains, John F Kennedys and Genghis Khans. We have our trashy equivalents these days who advertise the fact that they have sex with a lot of women, and it is now become less about the conquests, and being little more than a braggard who wobbles his head and says, ‘you know you want to be me’. Dan Bilzerian comes to mind.

Chris Gayle is another one of those men. He is 36 years old. He has a track record of being a serial womaniser who loves to showboat the fact, and it is unlikely that he will change his ways anytime soon. He’s paid a lot of money to do what he does best. Smash a ball around for 20 overs. It is part of the reason he gave up international cricket for the West Indies. The man has done his bit, now he is reaping the rewards. It is his prerogative, despite the negative attention he is receiving for being a mercenary in the face of West Indian cricket being in dire straits. He’s gathering enough notoriety to ensure he will lead a comfortable life well into retirement, so I would argue that he will not learn much out of this episode. Perhaps he will prove us wrong.

It is interesting to see that professional cricket, and sport in general, has now moved into a different time in various areas and yet stayed well behind the eight ball in others. There is so much more money, and avenues that professional sportsmen (and perhaps in a distant world, women) can go into in order to enrich themselves. Gone are the days when their loyalty was to one club or even one country. In cricket, the Twenty20 format has exploded in popularity and now players have a chance to find contracts across the world, be it in the subcontinent, Africa or the UK. Formerly you’d head over to play county cricket in England if you were an Australian cricketer. Now we are literally inundated with domestic competitions across the globe that allow players who are at the end of their career to collect pay packets the world over.

How long is it going to take for us to acknowledge that professional sport is a business and not a hobby anymore? People are making a lot of money from marketing themselves as entertainment packages. We’ve got taglines and pump-ups and interlinked motivations from networks and management teams. We’ve got the ‘Big Show’ who reverse sweeps for six, we’ve got ‘KP’ who is outspoken and we’ve got ‘Freddie’ who is a larrikin. They are not doing this for giggles. However, in turn we still have the same old debates about separating sport and society. It is about time that some of us consider that the debate we’ve had for over a decade is no longer relevant. Sport is a business. A very lucrative one at that. So when someone like Chris Gayle tells Mel McLaughlin ‘to not blush, baby’, we are no longer in a time when it is socially acceptable to let it pass with little more than a laugh, and a ‘oh Chris, you horny little devil’. We actually might have to think about it and ask ourselves, would it be okay to do the same to Linda in IT during office hours? Probably not. Can I still do it? Sure, but there are ramifications for the act because you are doing it in the light of something encompassing. In this case, it is the light of live TV. With Linda, it is in the light of your boss. In both, it is in the light of your workplace.

We can make the same old excuses about it being just a joke, or a mountain being made out of a molehill, but should we believe it? No, because it just isn’t true anymore. To push it aside is to ignore an issue that is so much bigger than a slimy comment on live TV. It represents professionalism in the workplace (albeit an unusual one), sexism in society, putting the blame on women and objectification. If you would like to argue about that, feel free to leave a comment, feel free to contact me and we will have a healthy debate because that is what this is all about. Different standpoints are fine, but social responsibility is firmly in the limelight in these divisive times. The quicker we can acknowledge that this is more than simply Chris Gayle making a comment that we hear, and probably have done in our own time – at a nightclub, bar, online etc – the faster gender equality in society may come about. He’s made the comment in the public eye and at his, and Mel’s workplace. It isn’t acceptable. We can talk about it until the cow comes home, but the fact is, as much as a large portion of society will let it slip, we have a responsibility to each other to think about what we say, how it will be seen, and how it will affect another person.

I’ll end with this for everyone screaming that this is just political correctness gone mad. You don’t have to see this as the end of having a laugh with your mates, when you crack on to a woman, or a man, or anyone at all for that matter. Just try and pick up on the vibe of the situation. We all make errors, however it is about knowing when to walk away, and knowing when you are out of line. We have to acknowledge that sport does not sit higher than society on an imaginary cloud. It also reflects who we are, who we want to be and how far we have come.

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