Something a cricketer shouldn’t say on Twitter

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We’ve done our usual Twitter thing for Cricinfo, but you’ll notice we haven’t mentioned Ryan Harris and his Al Swearengen style whinge about not being let into some casino. Nor have we mentioned Graeme Swann.

If you don’t already know, Swann’s receiving criticism for likening England’s Ashes defeat to being “arse raped”. He has apologised, saying that the comment was ‘crass and thoughtless in the extreme’ which seems a fairly accurate assessment to us.

However, when questioned by the Daily Telegraph, Yvonne Traynor, the chief executive of Rape Crisis, said:

“We are appalled that Graeme Swann equates a cricket match with the devastatingly serious crime of rape. It is the duty of people in the public eye to make sure that their own distorted views are kept to themselves and not shared with the general public. These comments lack compassion and intelligence and he should apologise to anyone who has suffered from this heinous crime.”

This begs a question. Why is it that when Alastair Cook says that Ashes cricket is ‘pretty much a war’ or when David Lloyd suggests that the opposition has been ‘murdered’ no-one sees it as anything other than hyperbole, but when an intelligent cricketer uses the word ‘rape’, some assume him to have ‘distorted views’?

You don’t have to know Graeme Swann particularly well to know that he is not in favour of rape. Chances are, he used the word precisely because it seemed somehow more severe than anything that implied homicide or genocide. Life-taking language has had its power eroded through frequency of use.

Graeme Swann’s crime is perhaps to have forgotten that certain words will be leapt upon, regardless of the true intent behind their usage. The only real difference between what he said and what professional writers say about sport daily is that society isn’t currently numb to the meaning of the word ‘rape’. Maybe he could have tested the water with ‘euthanised’ or ‘executed’ instead to see where we stand with those.


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  1. Spot on. Stupid, insensitive thing to say, but we live in a culture where people are just looking for an excuse to be outraged

    1. On the face of it, that appears to be true, but we’d suggest it’s more that we live in a culture where media outlets are just looking for an excuse to pretend that people are more outraged than they actually are.

    2. I think this is more a genre (or maybe even generational) clash. Anyone who has played online multiplayer games is familiar with the terms ‘rape’, ‘assrape’ or the slightly more polite ‘surprise (butt)sex’ to describe a particularly lopsided contest.
      Not particularly sensitive but then the internet was never known as a place where sensitivities are respected.
      As for Harris outburst, I have never been to Crown Perth but having been to Crown Melbourne several times I would think that describing it as a ‘shithole’ staffed by ‘dickheads’ would be considered fair comment by a significant number of people.

    1. mulch – if your looking for the antithesis of the sportsman as moral guardian, can I suggest you read The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw.

      It’s about Robin Friday, who played for Reading and Swansea in the 70s. To give you an idea of the man’s character, he was sent off in his very final professional match for punching Mark Lawrenson in the face.

      It’s a terrific book, and a tragic tale. Oh, and one of the authors is Paul McGuigan, the original bassist from Oasis. Weird…

  2. It’s the death of the metaphor.

    We point and laugh at those people who say “literally” in their figures of speech. Time now to point and laugh at people who hear “literally” in other people’s speech. Surely, on the basis of this comment alone, she doesn’t actually think that Graeme Swann holds a “distorted view” of rape? If she does, she needs to be kept away from the general public, as she is far more distorted in her views than he is.

    1. Not many, most journos would keep a folder of contacts who can be depended on for a comment in a range of situations.

    2. “Hello, is that Rape Crisis? I’m calling from the Daily Telegraph. I’m looking for a comment on what Graeme Swann said on Facebook.”

      “Graeme Swann?”

      “He’s an English cricketer.”

      “We’re not aware of his comments.”

      “I’ll drop you an e-mail.”

  3. He’s not guilty of a crime (or at least I hope he isn’t, god knows these days), the professionally outraged are annoying, and it seems very unlikely that Swann has a distorted view of rape. But I don’t think it’s similar to him having compared losing a cricket match to war or murder.

    If you look at opinion polls, there are horrifyingly large numbers of people who do have distorted views of rape. There are people who talk about “rape rape”, who believe that date rape isn’t serious, who think that rape of an extremely drunk woman is some sort of grey area, etc etc.

    The same is not true of murder or war. If you talk about murder or war in a jocular manner, there aren’t many people who actually think that murder and war aren’t serious, or that they aren’t really unpleasant. And there aren’t many people in our society who murder people or start wars, and think that that’s OK. There are lots of rapists, and apologists for certain types of rape.

    Swann’s words give support (unintentionally, and a tiny, tiny amount of support, but still) to horrible people and a horrible and depressingly common point of view. That’s why he shouldn’t have said them, and why he was right to apologise.

    Can’t say I’m on the moral high ground, I’ve said and typed a lot of things I’m ashamed of, and sometimes haven’t apologised as quickly as he’s done. And reading through what I’ve written, it reads as really po-faced and patronising, sorry about that. But I think his comments are a bit more serious than you’re suggesting.

    1. As he used the word hyperbolically, in much the same way as people frequently do with terms associated with war and murder, is he not reinforcing that it occupies similar moral territory to those things? Surely the depressing point of view you refer to is when people don’t even consider certain acts to be rape.

    2. So are you saying that Swann’s comment would be ok if made privately to an audience, all of whom he was sure considered rape to be the disgusting crime it is?

    3. It would still be pretty crass. While it’s illogical that it should be more acceptable to talk about sport using murderous and warlike terminology, that doesn’t alter the fact that it is.

    4. I think there are problems with rape that there aren’t with murder (both in the U.K. and globally), and that those problems have to do with rape not being taken seriously (along with many other things). So any light-hearted use of the word rape is different to a similar use of the word murder. Even where the context makes it obvious that you think rape is a bad thing, it’s still jovial, and makes it easier (even if only a very small amount easier) for rape to be taken lightly in general, for nastier jokes about rape to be made, and for nastier views about rape to be held. I think. Maybe there’s research which shows I’m wrong, I don’t know, but if not then it’s a risk which I don’t think there is any reason you should take.

      If there is any damage caused by his comments, then nearly all of that damage is caused by them having been made in public. Means it’s more of a problem even if morally it’s no different.

      Sorry, comment below should have gone here.

    5. Crassness is a form of expression that all of us use all the time. He’s an idiot for having said it on facebook. But I can’t buy Nick’s line of argument. Are you trying to say that the usage of the word “rape” as a metaphor is now completely banned? Is an environmentalist who says “Human beings are raping the earth?” now guilty of being insensitive to rape victims? Who decides if it is a legitimate use of the word?

      The PC police don’t own words, so it’s funny when they act like they do, and even funnier when the idiot celeb has to act repentant when all he is repentant about is having said the stupid thing in public.

    6. The “PC Police” don’t exist. They are a fiction that allow us to dismiss complaints about our behaviour without thinking.

      If they did, then sure, they wouldn’t “own words”. But the corollary of this is that no one person does; not even the person uttering them. Words mean what they are understood to mean; communication is a social process, not a unilateral one. You are beholden not only to your intent, which may have been jovial (and in this case certainly was), but to the effect your words have on others, which may be as far from fun as it is possible to get.

      You might argue that Yvonne Traynor is a member of the PC Police, and I would argue that she is not. I don’t know her, but obviously her working life is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of rape, and mitigating the impacts of it when it occurs. As Nick points out, it occupies a unique place in our culture, when “rape rape” is somehow considered separate to the obviously-funny “surprise sex”. Prison rape is a go-to stand-up comedy subject, even if only for hacks. If you are older than 22, you were alive at a time when marital rape was not a crime in the UK. This is a crime that people have a hard time taking seriously, unlike war and murder. For that reason if for no other, I think it’s entirely appropriate for a Rape Crisis spokesperson to make a big deal out of it being treated as a joking matter. Maybe it’s not entirely fair on Swann, but let’s face it: he’s not the victim here.

      It’s important not to miss Nick’s point about not being able to take the moral high ground. I’ve made horrid jokes in the past, far worse than Swann’s, which I cringe to recall today, and which by virtue of my not being a public figure, went all but unchallenged. I will no doubt make similar mistakes in the future, so I see no point in judging; but nor do I see any point in being upset on Swann’s behalf at being called out. He apologised in the straightforward and honest manner you’d expect from him.

      But that’s life, right? You fuck up, you learn, you move on. What do we gain from arguing about whether he should have been challenged on this? What are we defending? Our own right to make similar jokes? Our feelings about our own past behaviour? What’s really at stake, here?

  4. Part of getting the right sort of overreaction, presumably a vital journalistic skill, is knowing where to dob a metaphor in. Personally I think Cook should have been reported to the Stop The War Coalition, if only for the sight of the Socialist Workers Party, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Hezbollah and the Quakers marching shoulder to shoulder against the Ashes.

  5. I never really understood the fuss over Bumble’s “We flippin’ murdered ’em” comment. It was never properly explained, it was just accepted that it was a bad thing to say.

    1. I thought the fuss was that we didn’t. It was a two test series that finished 0-0, so saying that we murdered them is to miss the entire point of sport by some distance.

    2. I simply thought I should begin this sentence with “I thought” even though I didn’t particularly think anything.

  6. I feel like I have been robbed at gunpoint of the time I have just spent reading this thread and all these comments.

    This whole matter is quite literally a storm in a teacup.

    1. That’s not funny, Ged. I was once on a teacup ride at a fair during a massive electrical storm. Even today, the mere sight of a cup of Earl Grey near a Van de Graaff generator is enough to set me off.

      On behalf of all the other teacup-ride thunderstorm survivors, I would like to express my outrage at your insensitivity.

    2. And “Robbed at gunpoint” thrown so casually, Ged? Oh, it’s all fun and games for you, is it not? Did you even take a moment to think about all those souls who have survived through such an ordeal? Did you, huh, did you? No, you did not.

      On behalf of the League of KC Commenters, I demand an immediate and unconditional apology from Ged.

    3. Woah there. Don’t go around making demands like that. We were once on the receiving of a really squirm-inducing apology of unparalleled awkwardness and have been scarred ever since.

      Nobody ever thinks of those on the receiving end of apologies and how socially uncomfortable the experience can be for them.

  7. Anyone watch the very funny American sitcom arrested development?. A joke was that someone wanted to be a mix of therapist and analyst. And his business cards said analrapist. It was funny. But is it the writers distorted views on rape should they issue a belated apology?

  8. I’m with Nick here.

    First of all, “rape jokes” — that is, jokes where the punchline is just “rape,” where the act itself is supposedly funny, are asinine and should never be funny to people over the age of fourteen.

    Of course, that’s not what we’re dealing with here.

    “rape” is different from “murder” for a number of reasons. among them is what Nick mentioned, the societal attitudes toward it, etc.

    the other reason is that rape is (certainly not always, but primarily) a means for men to exert power over women. Graeme Swann, as a man, is statistically highly unlikely to be a rape victim, so maybe he shouldn’t be the one casually throwing out the word “rape” as a metaphorical association.

    I doubt Graeme Swann has ever raped anyone, or that he thinks date rape isn’t a serious issue, or that he has any views on the act itself other than that it’s horrible and disgusting. but as a member of the group that overwhelmingly perpetrates the crime, using the pain of others to get across how he feels about losing at cricket is, at best, crass and inconsiderate, and it’s something that probably needs to stop, and it’s not going to stop so long as people keep going “well what’s the big deal”.

    that also sounds really preachy and I’m sorry, I also didn’t mean it that way. I guess another way to get across what I’m saying is to imagine Swann in a rape survivor support group going “yes, I share your pain, I was part of the team that lost the Ashes” and imagine how the actual rape survivors would feel about that.

  9. Swann probably just got bored of saying “We’ve got to front up and take the positives. There is a lot of experience in that dressing room and we’re hurting.”

  10. I think Nick and Dan M make fair points. The difference that I see between Swann’s comment and references to battles / war is that I doubt anyone really thinks that battles and war aren’t serious or horrible but there are some people who think that rape, as the crime of sex without consent, isn’t all that bad or at least not until you add some “proper” violence to it, and joking about it especially in the context of (braces self) “bantz” could be taken as providing some legitimacy to these people’s views. I do wonder whether offence / insensitivity to feelings isn’t really the issue here and whether it is perhaps a bit of a red herring. Would it matter if not a single person actually personally found the comment offensive / outrageous? Perhaps it still does, if the comment in some way is taken by some as validating their views on rape.

    1. Interestingly, Daisy and I have just had a chat about the Swann remark for the first time. Daisy hasn’t seen this KC thread but her argument was very much aligned with your, Miriam.

      Interesting, because Daisy normally sides with the “political correctness gone mad” folk. But not for this remark. Mind you, she did also say that, as Swann has apologised for his thoughtlessness, the matter should be closed.

  11. The Cricinfo Ashes headline at the time of writing this morning reads, “Stokes stands out amid the rubble”.

    This, fewer than 12 hours after dozens of Londoners were injured, some seriously, and hundreds more traumatised by the collapsing roof of the Apollo Theatre.

    Do these headline writers and editors not know the difference between a poor tour for a cricket squad and the actual, physical devastation that crumbling buildings can cause?

    Those Cricinfo people are supposed to be professionals. Yet here they are pandering to the whims of those who take pleasure in destroying buildings, or those who think tumbling masonry is just a bit of a joke.

    I wholeheartedly apologise for any offence caused by my earlier, crass and insensitive remarks on this thread. This apology includes, unreservedly, an apology to those who find such wholehearted apologies offensive.

  12. There is no middle ground on this. Free speech is sacrosanct. If Swann wants to say arse raped, crass though it may be, he can do so.

    First they came for those who said arse rape, and I did nothing, as Voltaire had it.

    1. None of this in any way affected Swann’s freedom of speech. Unclench. He gave offense and apologized for such. No one made him do it.

  13. So Yvonne Traynor doesn’t want to ban this kind of thing, then? Hmmm. I’m dubious but maybe you know better.

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