NO LAUGHING MATTER: Sir Garry, I am so sorry
I feel compelled to write and apologise to Sir Garfield Sobers for the way we Barbadians treated him during his cricketing career and even afterwards. Sir Garfield Sobers is our only living National Hero – a title which he richly deserves.
We often wait until too late to tell or show someone how we feel about them. In this case, before it is too late I would like to say to Sir Garry, “Sir, on behalf of all Barbadians who, on reflection, can now see that they were quite mean and unfair in the way they treated you through the telling of cruel lies and jokes about you, I sincerely apologise.”
This great sportsman and great man, during his cricketing career, did more that got Barbados recognised worldwide than any other Barbadian. He was, and still is, undisputedly referred to as the “greatest cricketer ever”. There will be arguments about who the best batsman was and who the best bowler was but never any dispute over who was the greatest all-rounder or who was the greatest cricketer, for everyone across the world accepts that Sir Garry is by far the greatest cricketer ever.
Wherever he travelled he was recognised as Garfield Sobers, the great cricketer from Barbados. He was treated like a king outside of Barbados, even sometimes like a God – even worshipped. He was indeed a hero, our hero, who, even if he didn’t know it, was selling Barbados every day, every game, every century, every wicket, every catch, every victory, every graceful stride he made – for no one could match the graceful elegance of Sobers’ walk.
And yet at home he was the butt of several“Ossie Moore”-type jokes and lies. But why?
Was it because he was from The Bay Land?
Was it because he was not educated at Harrison College, Lodge or Combermere? Or was it because he was from Barbados?
It is said that “a man is without honour in his own country”, but this behaviour by Barbadians towards this great man seemed more like “a man must be dishonoured by his own country”.
I remember an occasion when I was the emcee at one of Sir Garry’s book-signing events. He had been signing books for almost two hours and he looked up and said “Mac, I am tired. You got to stop the line.”
I immediately went to explain to those in line that Mr Sobers would not be signing anymore. They protested and said that they were in line for a long time. The look of disappointment on some faces was so painful that it got the better of me and I allowed them to get their books signed.
They all just wanted to meet the great man that they had heard so much about – the same man who was being viciously ridiculed by his own people.
Once in England I was negotiating with an Indian salesman about an item and when he realised that I was from Barbados he asked me if I knew Garry Sobers. I told him yes and he promptly gave me the item free of charge. Amazing. I was happy to get it for free but I didn’t understand it. Even now I don’t understand it. It was as if I was Sobers’ surrogate.
Other cricketers observed how Sir Garry was being mistreated. Guyana and West Indies batsman Basil Butcher once told me: “Bajans don’t understand how great that man is. That man is a genius. That man shouldn’t suffer so.” I got the feeling that Garry was hurting and his teammates knew it.
Didn’t we think that he would hear about the disgustingly cruel jokes and lies too? Or is it that we were so vicious and callous that we didn’t care if he did?
Were we being Barbadian or Barbarian? Surely the latter seems more appropriate.
Does our inability to recognise genius and respect genius not reflect on us as not being perceptive and sensitive people?
At what point would Garry Sobers have been deserving of the disrespect he got?
He held the world record for the most runs in innings. He was the first batsman ever to hit six sixes in an over. He was known as a three-dimensional bowler. He averaged 57 runs per innings in Test cricket. He walked every time without waiting on the umpire to give him out. His honesty was so respected that umpires would take his word that he took the “catch”. He never showed dissent when given out.
In the first ever “Tied Test”, West Indies could have won the game but Sobers told the umpire that he did not take the catch cleanly. Honesty was his trademark. A true gentleman.
Sir, I am sorry.
Mac Fingall is an entertainer and retired secondary schoolteacher. Email [email protected]