JOHANNESBURG – Joe Root’s reply to Shannon Gabriel’s sledging in third Test between England and the West Indies, is hugely significant.
Male sports are incredibly chauvinistic domains. ‘You throw like a girl,’ ‘don’t get your panties in twist,’ ‘stop playing like a fag,’ all very common phrases heard when men play sports, all very wrong.
Gabriel directed a homophobic slur that has its origins in Jamaican slang towards the England captain. “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” Root replied.
I hope Root’s response to Gabriel gains more traction. It’s made headlines and must continue to do so for many years.
When Steven Davies, who’s played a handful of One-Day Internationals and T20 matches for England, publicly declared that he is a homosexual back in 2011, it set off many discussions in dressing rooms and bars around the world.
I happened to have a chat with a couple of members of the South African cricket team in that period and they all declared it would be incredibly difficult for a male sportsman from this country to publicly declare they were homosexual.
Obviously, that is terribly disappointing but worse, just very sad. We have made significant steps as a society and in terms of the South African Constitution, we have laws written which grant freedoms and protection to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers.
But there is a cavern that exists between what is written in the Constitution and what people experience every day. ‘Corrective rape’ is one of the most disgusting terms I’ve ever heard and yet it is a lived horror for thousands of women in this country. It is a grim example of just how far removed this society is from what is written in this country’s laws.
Root is English and Gabriel Trinidadian, but their verbal jousting shone a spotlight on what is a ghastly reality for many lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers.
The fact that former Indian international and current commentator Sanjay Manjrekar’s only take away from the incident is that stump mics should be turned down, is further illustration about how far removed from what is ethical, male sports are.
And it’s time sportsmen publicly stand up for what is right. Until this week there was nothing to suggest that Root was some sort of ambassador for LGBTQ rights. But what he did was the right thing. He adopted a strong moral stance in the heat of sporting battle and in doing so shined a spotlight on an issue that male sportsmen - with the exception of a handful of individuals - would rather not touch.
Root has inadvertently started a vital conversation that all male sportsmen need to have. It needs to start with the parents of young boys, then coaches and then among the sportsmen themselves.
“There is nothing wrong with being gay.”@shockerhess