Robinson tweets spark ‘cancel culture’ row

Shamed: Other celebrities have caused controversy in their younger days.

Should a person’s racist past be forgiven? Yesterday, as a second cricketer was linked with offensive posts, many called for punishment. But some say we should accept that people can change.

Professional sports are not like most other walks of life. They are dominated by young men, mostly in their 20s or even their late teens, earning mind-boggling salaries, placed under the pressure of constant scrutiny from media and fans. It is perhaps unsurprising that so many of these young men find themselves caught up in scandals.

So when England cricketer Ollie Robinson was suspended on Sunday by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over historical Twitter posts that used racist and sexist language, it seemed like a familiar story.

But now a second cricketer on the England team has been accused of writing racist posts in his youth. Cricket journal Wisden, which unearthed the posts, has not revealed the identity of the player because the posts were written before he turned 16.

The cases have attracted wider attention because of an intervention by cabinet minister Oliver Dowden, who said the decision to suspend Robinson went “over the top”. Dowden argues that Robinson should not be held to account for things that he said while he was still a teenager.

Shortly afterwards, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson confirmed that he was “supportive” of Dowden’s comments. Former England cricketer Mark Ramprakash said Johnson’s involvement was “unwelcome” and that more support should be shown for the targets of Robinson’s racist posts.

Other people have reformed their characters after committing racist acts in their younger years. When he was 14, Justin Bieber was caught on video using a racial slur and joking about the Ku Klux Klan. Prince Harry was photographed at a party wearing a Nazi uniform when he was 20 years old. Liam Neeson was criticised in 2019 after admitting that as a young man he had gone looking for an opportunity to kill a Black man.

Some think individuals should be allowed to leave their racist pasts behind them. They argue people should be judged according to what they do now – not what they did when they were too young to know any better.

But others think this is not enough – that if a person wants to be forgiven for racism they should have to make amends for it. Another former England cricketer, Michael Carberry suggests that Robinson could now devote himself to driving racism out of cricket to prove that he has shed his earlier opinions.

Carberry also asks why Dowden said nothing in defence of Marcus Rashford after he faced racist abuse for his activism while supporting Robinson over his racist posts. For some, this is proof that White people do not face serious consequences for racism.

Should a person's racist past be forgiven?

Bowled over

Yes, say some. They say that people are bound to make mistakes in their youth when they are more reckless and less likely to think through the consequences of their actions. And punishing people too harshly is not the best way to ensure that somebody has changed their opinions. We should strive to create a more understanding and forgiving culture in which people are not punished for views they held years ago, provided they have apologised and moved on.

Not at all, say others. They want more than just an apology from former racists: they want action. They think that we cannot just give people like Liam Neeson and Ollie Robinson the benefit of the doubt that they have examined and abandoned their previous views. Those people need to prove it by making amends to people they have offended and committing themselves to the cause of anti-racism.

You Decide

  1. Do you ever worry that the things you post on social media could someday come back to haunt you?
  2. Can people really change their characters?

Activities

  1. Write a short story about a person whose life is turned on its head when some old social media posts they wrote are exposed, then share it with the person next to you and compare your ideas.
  2. Get in a group of five. Three people should act as judges on a panel deciding on the penalty for Ollie Robinson. One person should try to persuade them to punish him harshly, the other to let him off lightly.

Some People Say...

“Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle, Old Age a regret.”

Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881), British statesman

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that when we are young we are more likely to make reckless decisions. The part of the brain that is responsible for making decisions is the prefrontal cortex, which is also the part that is slowest to develop. Adult brains are wired to like taking risks: a rush of hormones gives us a natural high when we take a chance on something. For teenagers, this high is much more intense than it is for adults, making them more likely to take risks without thinking about the consequences.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether or not a person’s character is fixed in their teenage years. Some neuroscientists argue that in our teenage years, connections stop forming between our brain cells, and instead the brain starts to delete unnecessary connections, meaning that our habits and abilities remain fixed. But others think the brain remains very malleable throughout our lives, meaning that we can always change the way we are.

Word Watch

Scrutiny
Critical observation or examination.
Ollie Robinson
A 27-year-old cricketer who played his first Test match for England in June 2021.
England and Wales Cricket Board
The organisation that governs English and Welsh cricket.
Wisden
A cricket reference book, published annually, whose full title is the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.
Oliver Dowden
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This role gives him considerable influence over the way professional sports are conducted in the UK.
Mark Ramprakash
A former professional cricketer who played for England in the 1990s. Since 2014, he has been the batting coach for the England team.
Ku Klux Klan
A hate group in the USA that in the 19th and 20th Centuries was responsible for murdering hundreds of Black people unprovoked.
Michael Carberry
A former professional cricketer who played for England between 2010 and 2014.

Subjects

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