Chris Gayle controversy is sexist and certainly not funny
‘To see your eyes for the first time is nice. Hopefully we can have a drink afterwards’
West Indies star Gayle has apologised after his “joke” flirt with a female television presenter was branded “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” by authorities after Ten Network reporter Mel McLaughlin found herself being asked out for a drink during an interview with the burly opener after he blasted 41 runs off 15 balls for the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League. Photograph: Getty Images
For being sexist. It is, as David St Hubbins once mused, such a fine line.
Interviewed live on air by the cricket reporter Mel McLaughlin during a Big Bash match in Hobart, Gayle opted to assess his big-hitting style thusly: “To see your eyes for the first time is nice. Hopefully we can have a drink afterwards. Don’t blush, baby.” We shall come to the reporter’s obvious discomfort later - and indeed that of so many of her fellow female journalists who have had similar experiences with the West Indies star, and who have since gone on record to detail them.
As for Gayle, he has been relieved of $10,000 by his Melbourne Renegades chairman, who somewhat excruciatingly reckoned it was just “cultural differences” (well done, mate!). He has issued a non-apology apology on his way out of the airport - a detail that reminded me he is certainly not the greatest entertainer to have had unfortunate dealings with women reporters in Australia.
That honour belongs to Frank Sinatra, who in 1974 took it upon himself to discourse on the country’s female journalists live on stage in Melbourne’s festival hall. “As for the broads who work for the press,” he opined, “they’re the hookers of the press. I might offer them a buck-and-a-half, I’m not sure.”
They used to say “it’s Frank’s world; we just live in it” - but at that moment in time Australia declined to be part of Frank’s world. The reaction was swift and comically stunning. The Australian press demanded he apologise; Sinatra refused. By noon the next day, the unions were involved, and airport refuellers flatly refused to fill his Gulfstream, while terminal staff announced none of their number would serve him. For the next few days, Sinatra ended up marooned and under siege on the 23rd floor of a Sydney hotel. It took the arbitration and conciliation services of Bob Hawke - then the ragingly popular leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions - to get Sinatra to sign a grudging apology, which finally permitted him to escape the country.
Happily, that was all a long time ago. There’s every chance Australia’s pubs echoed to the sound of Frank-loving guys raging against the female journalists back in 1974 but the wonderful thing about 2016 is that you can hear it all online. The ladies should lighten up, it’s only a joke, they’re obviously lying because they’re waaaay too ugly for Chris Gayle to hit on them ? and so on.
As so often, it’s a question of magic numbers. How many women have to say they feel harassed by this kind of thing happening to them at work before it is conceded by some men that it might just constitute unacceptable behaviour? It’s such a puzzle, isn’t it?
I imagine the answer would be akin to the magic number of people who could claim to have been drugged and raped by Bill Cosby before anyone really gave a shit about them. As a rather brilliant New York Daily News splash headline implied last week, with Bill it was just that age-old, insoluble back-and-forth. “He said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said ?” And so on, until the 56th “she said” had to be squeezed up really, really tiny to fit on the page. it’s like the old saying: six of one, six hundred of another.
Anyway, back to Gayle, and a chance for me to state firmly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being sexy. As it goes, both of my favourite Chris Gayle anecdotes relate to his sexual behaviour. The first concerns his attendance at a lunch at Arundel, during which a former MCC president’s small talk consisted of regaling him with his touring memories. When he eventually paused for breath, Gayle took the opportunity to inquire: “You get much pussy?”
The second is the strongly rumoured tale concerning Gayle’s getting over friendly with the fiancee of the now imprisoned fraudster Alan Stanford, during the latter’s Stanford Super Series. It was always said that Stanford’s hitherto highly visible fiancee disappeared from public sight a few days into the tournament after she had been found liaising with Gayle - a possibility made all the more piquant by Stanford’s eventually having to present Gayle, as captain of the winning side, with a cheque for $20m of his money.
You may brand that one more of a guilty pleasure - but I find the sense of heist rather irresistible, given Stanford’s later behaviour. But of course I am not literally saying Gayle “stole Stanford’s woman”. With the exception of the Texan conman, we must assume all parties consented to the notional act.
So no, I am not averse to Chris Gayle having the liveliest of sex lives. Of infinitely greater concern is the current argument that his behaviour can be excused on the basis that Maria Sharapova once flirted with a journalist. Why should one excuse the other? The idea it should is born of the mindset that fancies itself supremely logical on the basis that it strips every encounter of cultural context or nuance.
It is the argument of those who excuse blackface on the basis that the Wayans brothers once whited up for a movie, or wonder why it’s wrong to call Jews “Yids” when some Spurs fans refer thus to themselves. Such people know just enough not publicly to suggest that the N-word is OK because you hear it in rap - but only just, and only out of commercial self-preservation.
Still, it’s only a joke, isn’t it? The sadness is that the punchline Australia served up back in 1974 was so very much funnier.