An open letter to Steven Friedman

AB Duminy
AB Amla
You could cut the racial tension with a thigh-pad.

by Adriaan du Toit

This post is a response to acclaimed political analyst and academic Steven Friedman’s Facebook post on the topic of Protea skipper AB de Villiers’ racist inclinations in post-match interviews.You can read it (and the frightening discussion that ensued) here.

If, by the time you read this, Mr Friedman has recovered from whatever emotional affliction triggered his outburst and subsequently deleted the status from his wall, here it is in full:

“For those of us who follow cricket – have you noticed that our limited overs captain AB de Villiers has a speech defect?: he can’t say the names of black players who do well. Today he got excited about Kallis and du Plessis, who scored 4 and 34, but somehow could not mention Amla who scored 92, Duminy who scored 43 or Tsotsobe who took 3 wickets. He does this after every game. Maybe our black players, if they want to be acknowledged, should play for New Zealand, whose captain is weird enough to judge his players by how well they do rather than their skin colour?”

Dear Steven Friedman
When I first read about your comment on, I was tempted to limit my response to a quiet shake of the head and, if time allowed, a grumble loud enough for the chap who sits in the cubicle opposite me to make eye contact with me disapprovingly. You see, despite my intense dislike for intellectuals who seek out controversy for the sake of publicly validating the relevance of their expertise, I’ve learnt to tolerate their eccentricities for the sake of my blood pressure. Unfortunately, the temptation to let this go was outweighed by how much I love the Proteas and how proud I am of what they have achieved on and off the field.

My motivation to address your statements was given a further boost when I visited your Facebook wall and read the comments that your students made on the post. I’m astonished at the influence your opinion has on them. They were so eager to comply, I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed by your potential as an arch-villain or depressed by your students’ lack of independent thought. I decided not to dwell on the matter since neither scenario shines a particularly flattering light on you.

AB Duminy
AB going in for the kill. Just be careful of his tainted blood, skipper.

I have little interest in debating the presence of racism in the upper spheres of cricket administration. Perhaps there is and perhaps there isn’t. This is the luxury enjoyed by senior members of these elevated circles; the majority of their activities and motivations are seldom the topic of much more than speculation. If evidence emerges, I will look at it and add my two cents, but I have no inclination to go looking for it. This is the luxury of occupying the lowest of the metaphorical spheres I keep referring to. I care about my beloved team, how they perform on the field and little else. I urge you not to interpret this ambivalence as acceptance of institutional racism. I’m as opposed to it as the next man. But I can see the next man – he’s pretty close to me – and it looks as if he’s got a lot on his mind. In fact, it looks to me as if all he’d like to do is to sit back for a while and bask in the comforting glow of the series victory over these mouthy Kiwis.

Sadly for my imaginary neighbour and I, our reverie has been interrupted by your outburst. Our happy memory of Brendon McCullum staring dejectedly into the middle distance as the reality of his team’s mediocrity dawns on him will now forever be polluted by your sophomoric and unjustified rant.

“How dare he describe my scholarly output thusly?!?” I imagine you asking incredulously through a plume of pipe smoke. (You may also be wearing a cravat.) Well, firstly, the logic and tone of your argument is not dissimilar to that of an adolescent in the throes of a neurotic dismemberment of their ailing romantic relationships. “Then he said he’s going to Dale’s party but I heard that Denise asked him to go to the Wimpy and he said that even though Tori and her sisters were gonna be there he would go because Stacee would probably be there with Toni’s friend from Durban.” Appropriating this tone for the sake of style is fine if you’re an editorial columnist making some kind of flippant social comment. Much less so if you’re a respected academic accusing a beloved public figure of racism.

Secondly, I’m surprised you’re not more sensitive to how the lack of research can impede an argument, especially one as intentionally provocative as yours. But I’m willing to put that oversight down to the same condition that caused the outburst in the first place. So, on the realistic assumption that you intend to stick to your guns and continue arguing your point, I’m going to make it easy for you and remove all the obstacles between you and the information you need to do so. What follows is a transcript of almost every post-match interview with AB de Villiers since his promotion to captaincy. Try not to choke on your shoe as you read it.


1st ODI
AB: “Dream start for me as captain. Some individuals stood up there – Morne Morkel and Amla. I thought there was something in the pitch for the bowlers and we used it. Guys running in and bowling at 140+ was good.”
Here he uses the white player’s name and surname while referring to the player of Indian descent by his surname only. It could mean he wants Hashim violently evicted from his home, or it could mean he didn’t want the viewers to confuse Morne with Albie. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is more likely.

2nd ODI
AB: “The toss didn’t play a big part today. We played good cricket throughout and I am very proud. We picked up wickets at crucial times, and Hash the Rock played really well. There would have been more pressure if they had got those 20-25 runs. Hash’s wife is yet to give birth, but he will be there for it [and will mostly miss the next game].”
I’ll admit it’s not ideal that he compared the Indian player to a “rock”. Rocks are pretty much the most useless things on earth. Unless you’re using them as a foundation for something, in which case they’re pretty damn awesome. I think – bear with me for a second – de Villiers may be speaking metaphorically here; comparing the attributes of a rock to the innings Amla played. This, I know from years of listening to cricket players recite the same clichés match after match, is a compliment of the highest order.
Also I think it’s worth pointing out that any racist worth his salt would probably have expected a black player to do as he’s goddamn told and not take liberties like being present for the birth of his firstborn in the middle of an international series. It’s possible that this indiscretion slipped past AB and the racist coaching regime. But it’s also possible that they’re incredibly happy for Amla and want to make a big deal out of the fact that he’s about to become a dad.

3rd ODI
Cricinfo reports no post-match comments from de Villiers. Possibly because he was out campaigning for the early release of the Waterkloof Four.

4th ODI
Very good game, we batted quite well up fornt [sic], could have scored more in the last 10. They batted really well, chased down 300. I’ll take responsibility for losing my wicket at a bad time, we could have got perhaps 330 if I stayed till the end. There are other areas for the team to work on. I wasn’t too happy with our fielding, it wasn’t the best outfield to field on either. Perera played extremely well, he made my job very difficult.”
No credit to any Protea player, despite Tsotsobe taking three wickets. Maybe because he believes Lonwabo should be carrying a pass-book. Maybe because he was incredibly disappointed at not winning the match and didn’t feel like giving anyone other than the opposition a compliment.

5th ODI
AB: “Things have been going my way, delighted with my form at the moment. I thought the boys did really well. Biff did extremely well, I told the press that he was going to come through, and I’m very happy for my man. There’s a lot to work on for us, but an [sic] happy with the way the boys fought till the end. Every ground supported us really well this series.”
No mention of Parnell, who took 2 wickets. Maybe because he thinks Wayne should be mowing someone’s lawn instead of playing cricket. Or maybe because Graeme Smith’s temporary return to form and Sri Lanka’s terrific run-chase outshone every other aspect of the match.


1st T20
AB: “Not a great start, I take responsibility for that. We were expecting them to open up with a spinner, not surprised at all. Overs 4 to 9 cost us, we didn’t cash in at all, but we fought back and in the end we got quite close. We played well in patches, but we want to get it all together in the next game.”
Again no mention of  any Protea player. This seems to be a pattern when we lose a match. Quite reasonable if you ask me.

2nd T20
AB: “There’s a few things we can learn, but overall I was very happy with keeping them to 170 with the short boundaries. Botha has very good plans and he keeps the batsmen under pressure. I was trying to tell Richard to get off strike once we were at 10 an over but he just kept sending them flying. He’s been fed a bit of biltong back home, but he has done this before so it’s not a one-off. We go to Auckland with momentum now, very happy.”
Here he doesn’t congratulate any of the black players. Perhaps because he carries a picture of Verwoerd in his wallet. Or perhaps because none of them did anything more spectacular than return figures of 4/22 or score the fastest century in the history of international cricket. Note also how he refers to the off-spinner by his surname only. Do you think this is because he lacks respect for Johan Botha? Or can you acknowledge that perhaps the use of a surname instead of a nickname is completely without meaning.

3rd T20
AB: “Amazing team effort, really proud of the men, we hung on at the end there. Really tough batting first and assessing what was a good total, we lost momentum in the middle overs, unfortunately we had a slow start with ball in hand but I told the guys to hang in there. I truly believe Marchant has got it, he has big match temperament, I think the whole team has that and we managed to get a few wickets to turn things around. We do feel very good about the win, but we want to play a certain standard of cricket and we still need to do that more consistently.”
You may have a point here. He refers only to a white player and uses his first name. A sign that he’s surreptitiously maintaining a stock of home-made weaponry in preparation for the Great South African Race War? No. He was probably just overwhelmed by an astonishing comeback topped off by this young player’s incredible final over.

1st ODI
AB: “We did really well in the field to restrict them. They had a couple of partnerships, but we kept getting wickets, and that is where we won the game. It was a slowish kind of wicket, and it is important to build pressure on these kind of wickets. JP felt a bit of pressure early on, he did not hit it as well as he would have liked, but he played an important knock. Faf did extremely well. I thought I constructed my innings well which was difficult on this pitch and in these conditions.”
What’s this?!? He’s giving credit to a  non-white player AND using his first name?!? DF Malan is spinning in his grave so fast he’s probably drilled a hole halfway to the other side already!

2nd ODI
AB: “We played consistently well today, Morne bowled exceptionally for us and set the trend. Morne just [sic] wickets at the right time for us. Always nice when someone starts well up the order like Amla this time, he made it easy for the middle order. Faff is a world-class talent, I’m looking forward to watching him grow into a world-class player. We’d like to do it 3-0.”
I can think of no justification for the lack of credit to Tsotsobe. It must mean he and his prejudiced cadre are developing a strategy they like to call The Final Final Solution. Or perhaps it means what any sober person who is not looking to court controversy thinks that it means; absolutely nothing.

There’s little more I can or want to say on this topic besides wondering what you could possibly do to fix the damage you’ve done with your statement. You’ve slandered the reputation of a man whose dedication and talent is something that should be a constant source of pride to all South Africans. You’ve created further division between races. You’ve misled eager (albeit alarmingly pliable) young minds. And, worst of all, you’ve trivialised racism.

I sincerely hope that you’re mature enough to withdraw your statement and apologise to AB de Villiers in a public forum.

Adriaan du Toit keeps a blog entitled anxious without vowels.