I feel sorry for Chris Gayle. It must be so hard to be a sex symbol. Women always throwing themselves at him! Perhaps, even men, too. With all that attention, it’s easy to see how Gayle could start to think of himself as irresistible. So much so, he dared to stroke his ego on national television in Australia. Flipping the script, Gayle ‘put question’ to Mel McLaughlin, the female journalist who was interviewing him.
Gayle is not the first athlete to get carried away in Ms McLaughlin’s glamorous presence. In 2012, Australian soccer star Tim Cahill stepped up to the mike to be interviewed by the journalist and gave her a completely unexpected kiss on the cheek. Ms McLaughlin looked flustered. She was clearly taken by surprise. Perhaps she blushed. But she kept her cool. She gave a half-laugh and said, “OK.” But was it?
As far as I can tell, not a bit of a fuss was made about that Cahill kiss. There was no talk of sexual harassment at the workplace. No fine. No call for a worldwide ban on Cahill. No bogus story that Cahill had exposed himself to an anonymous female who wandered into a male dressing room. Cahill is white and Gayle is black. Is that the difference in the treatment of the two athletes?
WELL OUT OF ORDER
Don’t get me wrong. Gayle was well out of order to be asking Ms McLaughlin out on a date. Talking about looking into her eyes and calling her ‘baby’! What is so puzzling is that the interview started off quite professionally. Ms McLaughlin congratulated Gayle on his performance and then asked, “Were you just not in the mood to run today?” He said he was cold and then went on to talk about the rhythm of the game – hitting the first four and wanting to entertain the crowd for the last game.
Then Ms McLaughlin gushed, “Incredibly aggressive approach for you, too! Looks like you absolutely just smashing this innings.” (sic) That compliment seems to have been Gayle’s undoing. He gets tongue-tied: “Yeah, definitely, ahm, I mean.” And next thing you know, out of the blue, Gayle head tek him.
He then makes the now-infamous confession, “I want to come and have an interview with you as well.” This is punctuated by loud sniggering coming from the Channel TEN studio. Gayle continues, “That’s the reason why I’m here. Just to see your eyes for the first time. It’s nice. So hopefully we’ll win this game and we can have a drink after. Don’t blush, baby!”
Denying that she was blushing, Ms McLaughlin efficiently steers the interview into less troubled waters. After a little stumble, her next question seems to cut Gayle down to size: “Ahm, did you, any injuries? Did you have any? The boys were saying maybe you picked up a bit of a twinge in your hamstring.” Is this injury wishful thinking? Does the twinge stand for impotence? Or, worse, castration? Gayle is not fazed. He cockily says it’s back pain, he’ll do physio and hopefully he’ll look into Ms McLaughlin’s eyes again.
Chris Gayle doesn’t seem to know the story of Emmett Till. The place was Mississippi and the year was 1955. A 14-year-old black boy, Emmett Till, was accused of flirting with a white woman. He didn’t even speak to the woman. All he did was look at her. Or so they said. And he was murdered by two white men protecting the honour of the white woman. The men were tried for murder but were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury.
Gayle is lucky. He’s not likely to be murdered for flirting with Mel McLaughlin on national television. But his career might take a hit. The Australian cricketer Ian Chappell is calling for a worldwide ban on Gayle. This punishment seems completely out of proportion to the offence. Gayle made a stupid mistake. But to ban him from cricket forever?
Gayle says it was an innocent joke. I’m inclined to believe him. And he made the pass out in the open on television. It was on show! To me, this makes the flirting less troubling than it might have been in private. But the image of an athletic black man flirting with a white woman remains threatening to ‘the boys’, even in the 21st century. That seems to be the real issue.
Of course, sexual harassment on the job is no laughing matter. And it’s not only women who are harassed. Men are also harassed by both men and women. The workplace ought to be a safe environment in which both men and women can work in peace without fear of unwanted sexual advances.
And though the global condemnation of Chris Gayle’s flirting with Mel McLaughlin on the job seems over the top, the controversy over the incident is a welcome reminder that there are lines of propriety that should not be crossed.
I’m sure Chris Gayle will now think at least twice, if not more, about inviting any woman to have a drink with him. And certainly not on TV! But, hopefully, he will continue to enjoy the pleasures of appropriate flirting. After all, if he stopped, it would be such a waste of a deliciously sexy man.