Yesterday should have been the proudest moment of Ollie Robinson’s life. He had made his Test debut for England and taken his first test match wickets. His day ended slightly differently than he might have expected, however. After racist and offensive tweets made by Robinson as an 18-year-old emerged, he was placed in front of the TV cameras, clearly a broken man, while the great and the good of English cricket lined up to condemn him.
The ECB chief executive Tom Harrison was harshest. “I do not have the words to express how disappointed I am that an England Men’s player has chosen to write tweets of this nature, however long ago that might have been,” he said. “We have a zero-tolerance stance to any form of discrimination and there are rules in place that handle conduct of this nature. We will initiate a full investigation as part of our disciplinary process.”
Of course, Robinson’s tweets are totally unacceptable, but we have become a very unpleasant nation if we are to judge every man or woman by what they may have said as an immature teenager.
Those of us of a slightly older generation are fortunate enough to have gone through our teenage years, with all its attendant mistakes and stupidity, without the spectre of social media preserving our foolishness for ever.
I very much doubt that there is a single person condemning Ollie Robinson who would wish to have their adolescent thoughts and so-called jokes brought out into the public domain. Can even Tom Harrison honestly say he would not regret anything he said as an 18 year old? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone indeed.
This is not to assume, of course, that any of these people ever said anything racist. It is simply to say that at 18 years old, we do not have the wisdom to understand the impact of our words and the maturity to understand how they might affect other people.
It is also to point out that, regardless of age, people change and should be judged on who they are now not on who they may have been in the past. It is worth remembering that Ollie Robinson’s progress at Sussex was overseen by Jason Gillespie, the same head coach who sacked him from Yorkshire the year after these tweets were sent for “unprofessional behaviour”.
Gillespie said at the time that “I think there will be a future for him in the professional game, but I think he needs to learn a lot, and I think he can do it.” Clearly, the Australian would not have developed Robinson into the spearhead of the Sussex attack if he did not believe he had changed and matured.
Robinson also plays in a diverse Sussex team. If he were still the person that he was 8 years ago it is hard to see how he could have fitted in. It is doubtful whether Jofra Archer, for instance, would have been happy to share the new ball with a known racist.
If we do not change and learn to become more forgiving of adolescent mistakes then the plight of the next generation, who have grown up with social media all their lives, will be even worse. We will not be judging them by things they said when they were 18 but by what they said when they were 12.
Human beings are flawed creatures, they say and do bad things as they grow and learn. It is sad that we have become the sort of society where we publicly humiliate and castigate a grown man in this manner for mistakes made in his youth. We should not allow our quest for tolerance to make us an intolerant nation.