Former West Indies captain Daren Sammy speaks to Taha Hashim about why he won’t stand for the cricket community’s silence on matters of race.
Daren Sammy will not shut up and dribble. In his last act as a West Indies player, not only did he lift the World T20 trophy as captain – for a second time – but he aimed fire at his bosses too, citing how “we felt disrespected by our board”. Sure, there was joy to be found in being a world champion, but that wasn’t going to stop him from voicing his grievances.
With that in mind, there should be little surprise that Sammy was one of the first leading figures in the cricket world to relay a statement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
Last week, in one of his several messages on social media, the 36-year-old went after the game’s governing bodies: “@ICC and all the other boards are you guys not seeing what’s happening to ppl like me? Are you not gonna speak against the social injustice against my kind. This is not only about America. This happens everyday #BlackLivesMatter now is not the time to be silent. I wanna hear u.”
His former international colleague Chris Gayle stated the presence of racism in cricket, but it wasn’t till three days on from Sammy’s tweets that the ICC posted its own carefully crafted response on social media. England’s diverse 2019 World Cup winners were the poster boys in a video that ended with the following message: “The ICC stands against racism.”
For Sammy, it was too slow. “We shouldn’t have to speak out for you [the ICC] to make a statement about it,” he tells me shortly after we begin our interview. Righteousness burns in every word as he explains what compelled him to share his message.
“Anybody who has a human soul, who sees the discrimination, injustice and the murder that took place in that video must have some compassion and must want to voice something about it.
“It’s unjust and not right, especially happening to someone of my kind. It just hit a very, very deep place, so I had to speak out about it.”
Without diversity, cricket is nothing.
Without diversity, you don’t get the full picture. pic.twitter.com/kHfELJIJbt
— ICC (@ICC) June 5, 2020
I ask him if he’s been on the end of racist abuse while playing cricket. “I’ve had comments being made to me in different places,” he says. “In light of the education and exposure of what people go through, when I think back at certain things that have been said, whether it’s been said in a jokey or funny way, it tends to make you think.”
Just days after we speak, the world learns more of what he means. Sammy takes to Instagram to share a video of himself calling out comments made to him by teammates during his time in the IPL with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2013 and 2014. He explains how he was called a racially derogatory term in Hindi and was only made aware of its definition and connotations after watching a video clip of American comedian Hasan Minhaj.
“Every time I was called it – it was me and Thisara Perera – there was always laughter in the moment,” he says in the Instagram video. “Me being a team man, I thought, ‘Hey, teammates are happy, it must be something funny’. But you could understand my frustration and my anger when it was pointed out to me that it wasn’t funny at all, it was degrading.”
“If you look at it,” Sammy tells me, “why is it that the black man’s path is the most difficult one? To get to success, you always hear the story of us going against the odds. Even in cricket, before the World Cup final in 2016, the way they described us, it was just not right. We paid our dues, our guys were dominating leagues, we were sought all over the world and still they never gave us the credit.”
There are elements of what Sammy says which resonate with comments made by Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth earlier this year on the “unconscious” racial bias present in English cricket. When Barbados-born Jofra Archer won England a World Cup, he was everyone’s darling. But when things went wrong, the narrative changed pretty quickly.
“As soon as his pace dropped, or he struggled on heartless pitches in New Zealand with the Kookaburra, his motivation was questioned,” Booth wrote in the editor’s notes. “Out came the stereotypes: he was too cold; he was too laid-back; he was a natural athlete, so why couldn’t he bowl at 95mph on demand? It was the sort of inquisition the injury-prone Mark Wood has never had to face.”
Such stereotypes may seem to be minor transgressions, but they allow space for more harmful attitudes to foster – for the covert to become overt. Archer was racially abused last November while playing against New Zealand and earlier this year revealed abuse directed at him on social media. “I will never understand how people feel so freely to say these things to another human being,” he said. “It baffles me.”
Sammy’s main arguments take a turn. He makes it clear that he is not only taking a stand against racial injustice. He finds parallels with the politics of the cricket world, too.
“If I see the symbol of a man’s knee on a man’s neck as somebody in power keeping the less fortunate down, when I put it into cricket terms, I could associate with that,” Sammy says. “We, the lesser [cricket] boards could associate with that. When you hear the pleas for finances from the cricket boards of West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka – the lesser boards that are not getting an equal share of the pie – this brought up a lot of issues. Just the symbol of someone in a dominant position taking advantage of someone who can’t speak up and help themselves. That hit a deep place for me.”
These are strong remarks, likely to prompt consternation from officials at the BCCI and ECB. But Sammy isn’t afraid of putting his head above the parapet. He further conflates his arguments when discussing West Indies’ decision to tour England, a coronavirus hotspot, with Pakistan set to follow later this summer.
“Look at Covid-19. Who are the two teams that have put up their hands to come and play in England despite all the barriers that Covid-19 puts to sport? The West Indies team is coming to England to play in trying conditions. They’re going there to help.
“It shouldn’t be so difficult to return the favour. Stand up, support and say we’re against all of this, and we stand with our black brothers in these trying times. Why is it so difficult to say that? When we always come out and play with love, flair and entertain you with smiles on our faces, you love us for it, so why can’t you also support us when all these hurtful things and injustice happen to us?
“I wouldn’t be against anyone who decided not take that risk [of touring], but at the end of the day, we try to put cricket first. The world needs something to smile about, to cheer about in this time, and West Indies can help. I’m not against West Indies going to England, but if we support you in this way during that time, you ought to be able to do the same for us. I hope to see England coming to the Caribbean soon because that’s how we as a board could make money as well.”
Of all Sammy’s proclamations, the loudest one is that he will not stand for silence. Not even from those with whom he has shared a dressing room.
“Right now, if you remain silent and you have a platform to express the injustice being done and you don’t do it, you’re also part of the problem. The same way you call me your teammate, say we’re brothers, why can’t you show the support for me when I’m crying for help? I’ve seen some cricketers who have stood up and I’ve personally messaged them telling them, ‘Thank you’, because when I step on that field I don’t see an Indian or Pakistani or Englishman, I see my team.
“I see those who are silent. And they know themselves. But life is about choices and we all have to make them.”
Daren Sammy has made his choice. Now he’s waiting for yours.