“So, I composed this essay…” Jonathan Agnew and Jonathan Liew

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By Creative Media News

I was on a train from Manchester to London on a Sunday evening in April 2019 when I received a series of tweets from the BBC cricket analyst Jonathan Agnew. It became immediately apparent that this was not a friendly social call.

Agnew was infuriated by an article I had written on the media’s reaction to England’s selection of Jofre Archer. His response, which was aggressive and loaded with personal attacks, was extensively published by the press and nearly cost Agnew his job.

I sent Agnew a text message last month asking if he wanted to discuss the situation. We gathered at his Lincolnshire watering hole to discuss everything, including cricket, broadcasting, race and diversity, that piece, and those messages. But first, we talked about a young Guyanese cricketer whom Agnew briefly met as a teenager while playing for Surrey’s second team.

"so, i composed this essay... " jonathan agnew and jonathan liew
"so, i composed this essay... " jonathan agnew and jonathan liew

Christopher Liew Tell me about Lonsdale Skinner.

Jonathan Acquire So I was 17 years old. The previous summer, 1976, I had played for Surrey’s under-19 team. The following season, Surrey hired Fred Titmus as a coach. Unparalleled cricketer for Middlesex. And our first match is against Hampshire in Guildford. I recall that when we left before halftime, Titmus was berating Lonsdale, who struck me as a good guy.

And this rant by Titmus… I had never heard anything similar. I had never before encountered racist words. And I felt the rage of a fast bowler rising within me. So I simply stood up and told Titmus how I felt about him. And there was a void of sound. I hadn’t realized the repercussions. It was a career-ending incident.

JL So it may have been the end for you?

JA Could have been.

JL Were things different in Leicestershire when you visited?

JA It was a very different environment. Ray Illingworth was the captain, [David] Gower was on the team, and we had an assortment of amiable personalities. There was significantly more fresh air in the area. And the arrival of Andy Roberts was the turning point in my life; he was my defining moment.

I bowled against Andy, shared a room with him, and was his guide in the car – he drove like a complete lunatic. I recall him predicting in 1984 that I would play for England. That was the year I participated.

JL You authored a book while playing for Leicestershire, correct? Did you always enjoy utilizing words?

JA There were no 12-month contracts back then. You received your P60 in September and were left to your own devices. There was no security. Therefore, one day John Rawling, the sports guy at Radio Leicester, invited me to try it out. And that is where I began. The Today newspaper was followed by Radio Leicester, the book, and then the Today newspaper.

However, I have always been curious, and you can answer this question. Why are journalists a story? Why am I seen as a story? Because, based on my perception of our dispute, you were sensitive to the fact that I had retaliated against you. However, what I was offering you was a portion of what you gave me.

JL I believe there are two possible responses. The first is that BBC is a globally recognized brand. And individuals enjoy reading about broadcasters. Television and radio retain this level of allure.

JA It’s strange, isn’t it? I have always thought that we are the same people performing the same tasks.

JL In addition, whether it’s Sky or Test Match Special, it’s such a crucial entry point into the game. It is many people’s sole exposure to cricket. It, therefore, matters what is stated on TMS, who its presenters are, and what its editorial priorities are.

JA I do comprehend that. What occurred around that time was the question, “Does IR35 mean anything to you?” Most likely not. But in essence, we are all independent contractors. I’ve never been BBC staff. But HMRC initiated an investigation to see whether we were de facto employees and should have paid PAYE. At the same time as all of this transpired, I received estimated tax invoices from HMRC totaling £100,000. In the end, the resolution was nothing like that.

I believed I was losing everything. That is not an acceptable excuse. I am shocked and outraged to be sending you this mail. Even in my most deranged moments, I never use this word. And I deeply regret it. People were astonished and upset because they did not believe I was capable of using such language. However, there was a great deal going on at the same moment. We had been through much. And my criticism of Jofra Archer was intended just to disturb a team that had risen from the bottom to the top with the World Cup approaching.

JL Consequently, I wrote this piece. My friend Jack was the one who discovered that how many people spoke about Jofra was… somewhat off. And I truly believed there was a distinction between how people spoke about Jofra and, for example, Boyd Rankin or Gary Ballance. But as a columnist, you cannot just state that you have an impression. You must provide supporting evidence. And individuals do take these matters personally. There was a phrase I employed…

JA There is a potentially explosive word that you could use, but I will not.

JL Which, upon reflection, appears to be a dog whistle. Nonetheless, I believe it would have been inappropriate to ignore the reality that Jofra is a black man entering a predominantly white sport. The reason I did not use this term is that determining whether something is racist or not is not as straightforward as it may seem. This was how some individuals interpreted it. Given that I had previously written about you, it would be reasonable for you to feel as though you’re being gunned down.

JA To identify a white middle-aged person with racism, however, is a big success. And this is what upsets me, as I am well aware that I am not. We went on vacation shortly thereafter. And then you send out the messages. Then it all exploded. I believed I was going to be fired. I believed that everything was falling apart.

JL I believe I was attempting to convey that if you are a black student, you hear the word “disruptive” frequently. Or “unsettling”. And whether you call it racism or not, these are merely somewhat different ways of treating people. It is no longer acceptable to use the N-word or the P-word in modern society. The most harmful, though, is the smallest, most disputable details. Because individuals do not always observe. And it is typically unconscious.

JA The unconscious bias is intriguing, wouldn’t you agree? But can you also be biassed? Is unconscious bias unidirectional? Can a non-white individual feel this way for a white one?

JL I am certain they can. However, I believe it boils down to power inequalities. If you are a black man going down the street or seeking a job, unconscious bias has the potential to negatively impact your life in a way that is less common for white individuals.

JA I suppose I simply lashed out. Immediately after sending it, I immediately regretted it. It did not improve my condition. Since then, I’ve been extremely cautious. You have been frequently on my mind. This entire enterprise has.

JL I fear that diminished your enjoyment of broadcasting for a time.

JA I was taking sedatives. Simply to work. Throughout that summer, I took antidepressants. Interestingly, I created some of my finest work on them. I was once again a joyful person. The World Cup final, followed by Headingley, is confirmation to anybody who has ever questioned their ability to produce their greatest work under pressure. But I had it in my mind. If I saw a tall man with black hair and glasses approaching me, I would think, “Jesus, it’s Liew!”

JL Jesus. This is not what you desire.

JA Leaving social media was one of the smartest decisions I made. I met some lovely individuals there, but it felt so much better to leave it behind. Since it is a spiral. You are indeed drawn in.

JL Oh, yeah. I instantly desired for the situation to be finished. It is a lesson in how rapidly things can slide downward.

JA I’ve always endeavored to maintain some sort of reputation. And we have all committed errors along the road. I could care less what others think of me. However, I do not wish for anyone to assume that I am a racist. This is what stung me. You recall the 17-year-old who destroyed his career at Guildford. What do you take away from all of this?

JL I’d like to believe I’ve gained some maturity. I continue to be enraged by the issues, however. I am sincerely concerned about inequality. Regarding prejudice. Concerning economic opportunity.

JA Does this pair well with sport?

JL I believe it does. Sport is not only a window into society but also a magnifying glass. Because of the feelings, it evokes. When something like the Azeem Rafiq controversy occurs, it is the story of one man, but also a glimpse into… number of Azeem Rafiq’s present.

JA It’s very divided, isn’t it? These emotionally charged narratives divide audiences.

Since you began using JL TMS, a great deal has changed. As a broadcaster, how do you pitch it? Because you are attempting to diversify. However, there is also a conventional audience. And when Isa [Guha] and Ebony [Rainford-Brent] arrived – and even when Ali Mitchell arrived – there was a great deal of criticism.

JA They must be dragged along. People don’t like change. But it’s more interesting when you’re seated next to folks with diverse life experiences.

JL Are you content now?

JA Clearly, it was a difficult time for both of us. However, we both emerged. I am now completely fine. And this will be useful.

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