As much as bloggers love their own voices — and I definitely fall into that category myself — I don’t like making too many moral judgments. I’m not in a Bristol nightclub when Ben Stokes gets a little pissed off (I’m definitely drinking brandy and an episode of South Park in bed) and I don’t know if his actions are criminal or that broken eye socket is where it comes from that. All I know is that it’s wrong to mistreat a gay couple, and it’s wrong for an English cricketer to jeopardize his career (and Ashes!) by getting into a fight.
However, all I can do is ask each of you for your opinion. I can point out what seems to be a very clear discrepancy in set-pieces: why are Canterbury happy to have Ben Stokes playing for them, while England aren’t? Of course, the ECB has its protocols and disciplinary procedures, and the investigation has its role, but that doesn’t change the fact that Stokes will be playing for Canterbury at the Burger King Super Smash next week, when he can play in the Ashes.
I can hear the debate now… of course if Stokes is allowed to travel to New Zealand and continue his career with one of their local teams, can he also play for England? Many people can’t tell the difference. Did the New Zealanders rule that he was innocent until proven guilty, while England ruled not? Or are we Poms just adhering to a higher moral standard than our Kiwi cousins… and using it to cut off our noses to tease our faces? It’s a strange dilemma.
No doubt many will argue that when professional athletes are allowed to compete, they are allowed to compete. He should not be allowed to play national cricket but not international. He either plays cricket or he doesn’t. Finish.
Don’t forget that Stokes wasn’t banned for his conduct at international level; he wasn’t playing for something that happened outside of cricket. He didn’t hit the opposing umpire; shouldn’t he be allowed to practice his trade until he’s actually convicted?
My point is that England’s decision not to vote for Stokes has nothing to do with cricket and is a purely moral decision. And because moral judgments are subjective, England’s position (and Canterbury’s juxtaposition) is highly contested and somewhat controversial. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with Andrew Strauss’ approach. I’m just stating facts.
An equally compelling argument is that Stokes shouldn’t be playing for anyone right now. Perhaps Canterbury have brought the sport into disrepute by employing a player who is under criminal investigation? Perhaps the ECB should be commended for taking a moral stance, and Canterbury were a bit opportunistic in signing the controversial England star when his country didn’t want him?
On the other hand, I also have a bit of sympathy for those who think the ECB should support Stokes, single him out for his ashes, and then justify his actions as a heroic attempt to speak up for the aforementioned gay couple. Depicting Stokes as a “departed hero” may be popular in Australia.
Instead, the way the ECB responded made the Stokes episode look more serious. They treat Stokes like a naughty boy, getting defensive about other players’ behavior (however innocuous) and reminding the team that they need to be at their best. This made life more difficult for our tour group as there was a persistent perception in Australia that the England squad was full of hooligans. The reality is actually very different…as George Dobell eloquently pointed out yesterday.
Perhaps the ECB would have been wiser to deny the drinking culture, stand up for the players and take the offensive when dealing with the Australian media? They could certainly side with Jonny Bairstow, who apparently did nothing wrong in “headbutting” Bancroft. Instead, Andrew Strauss fell into an old-fashioned Australian surrender, putting even more pressure on the English players in the process.
It is interesting to compare Strauss’ treatment of Stokes with the way Sir Alex Ferguson treated Eric Cantona when he infamously kung fu kicked a Crystal Palace fan. I have no doubt Ferguson will be talking behind the scenes, but he put his arms around his star player and publicly painted him as some kind of victim. That’s because Ferguson knew how important Cantona was to his team, and how important the enigmatic Frenchman was to United’s success. Strauss seemed more interested in sending the right signal than winning the Ashes. Ferguson doesn’t seem to care about morality at all.
Obviously, we can debate whether Ferguson’s or Strauss’ approach is correct until the gulls go home. Some people will think that some things are more important than winning. The CEO of the San Francisco 49ers recently fired their most successful coach in 20 years because winning wasn’t enough. Instead, he called for “winning with first-class results” — a slogan that seems silly considering the team has won just seven of its final 43 games since. How would Strauss feel if the price of his moral stance was another 0-5 whitewash?
I guess what I’m saying is that this situation is an ethical minefield. Who says who is right and who is wrong? All I know is that it’s disgusting to see England draw 1-0 in the Ashes and prepare for a crucial Test in Adelaide, but our best players are kicking around The ball, and this game British fans don’t care at all. The whole situation is so depressing.
No doubt many will argue that Stokes has only himself to blame. and in many ways