Joe Root's 12 words send a powerful message that homophobia is not okay
Opinion / 13 February 2019, 12:20pm / NASSER HUSSAIN
Above all else Joe Root did in this game, and he batted and captained brilliantly, nothing was as powerful as the words he spoke on the third afternoon: ‘Don’t use it as an insult, there’s nothing wrong with being gay.’
There were just a dozen of them, but they will have greater resonance in the long run than anything else. As England captain, he is a role model, a hero and kids hang on every word that passes his lips.
I am aware that ‘gay’ is bandied around as a derogatory term in school playgrounds and at lower levels of cricket around the UK.
It’s totally unacceptable. Hopefully, young people will hear Joe’s words and realise it’s not a gag any more.
Like many others, I put rainbow laces on for a day every year to show my support for the LGBT community in sport.
While that gets the message out there, this message from a man of the status of England captain, playing to a global TV audience, is a much stronger one.
When someone like Root stands up, others will follow.
He did not respond to Shannon Gabriel as a PR stunt, or to seek attention. It was an off-the-cuff reaction to something that he was not prepared to accept. Quite simply, homophobic abuse should never be accepted.
I have no idea who said what to whom to trigger it. It has all been whispers and conjecture. Having the stump microphones on all the time should mean that you hear everything and everyone is kept in line. But on this occasion it hasn’t happened. The only thing they have picked up is Root’s comeback.
The shame about it is that there was a brilliant battle going on between a fine West Indies fast bowler and a fine England batsman. Lots of words were exchanged over a lengthy period of time and most of it was in jest and laughed off. That is why I believe Joe was trying to back up Shannon when he spoke to the media on Monday evening.
Deep down, I believe both Root and Ben Stokes have enjoyed what, from the context of the sporting contest, has been a really good tussle against Gabriel during this tour of the Caribbean.
I would say that 99.9 per cent of what has gone on in the middle during the series has been fine — very watchable, cricket drama at its best, and we don’t want to be knocking that out of the game.
We don’t want 11 characterless people taking the field, worried about what might be picked up by broadcasters.
After all, the whole point of sport, and the reason we all love it, is that it allows raw emotion to come out.
And don’t forget the circumstances aligned to the heat of battle. Here was a fast bowler who has continued to run in, giving it everything, when his team’s bowling attack is one man short due to an injury to Keemo Paul, and he has had catches dropped off him.
He has bowled quite brilliantly this series, he is in the faces of opposing batsmen and it has made for great theatre.
His mistake, if he did say the kind of thing to draw such a reaction, was to cross the line.
I don’t like seeing players banned because the best ones provide thrilling television and if Joe hadn’t reacted, no one would have picked up on this and thousands of England supporters would have gone home talking about the battles between Gabriel and Root, and Gabriel and Stokes.
That is why I admire Joe for calling out Gabriel. He had a lot of respect, I sense, for how he was going about his business as a cricketer. In his press gathering on Monday, he made a point of saying how much pride and passion he detected in him playing for West Indies.
But the moment he believed the line had been crossed, Joe stamped down on it.
If those 12 words can get to every school playground and every club game, that this has no place in cricket, it will be the best thing to come out of this Test.
It was a message delivered in a very calm, assured, non-histrionic way, to a worldwide audience. Homophobic abuse should not and will not be tolerated.
You could argue that if he was taking such a stand, he should have gone to the umpire and told him what was said.
But Joe’s loyalty to an opponent, I assume, stopped him doing that. I am sure Joe didn’t want to be seen as someone telling tales.
People have been suggesting it is a cultural thing. That those are the types of comments you get in this part of the world. That is not an excuse for me. Not in 2019. The ICC clearly agreed and last night charged Gabriel with a breach of their code of conduct.
Root has done a lot of good things as a cricketer and his time as England captain has shown him to be a fine leader. This week has shown him to be a very special human being as well.
* Nasser Hussain captained the England cricket team between 1999 and 2003.