Follow up #3 on “Ed Smith Pulls a Melania Trump”: ESPNcricinfo’s Double Standard

Rohan Sharma is a 28-year old young man, living in Toronto, Canada. He’s already undergone a couple of things that most of us will never go through, rather, never will wish to go through in our lives. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2014 and recovered from it through intense chemotherapy, and is still on the mend; And he has also been fired from his job as Ball-by-Ball (BBB) commentator from ESPNcricinfo for plagiarism in March 2015.

Rohan, originally from India, a resident of Canada since 2000, got an opportunity to work for ESPNcricinfo in 2013, and moved from Canada to Bangalore to pursue his dream job. He eventually got his wish as he became a BBB commentator at ESPNcricinfo during the 2013 Ashes. He felt he was a natural fit for the job, and enjoyed the profession that combined two of his passions – cricket and commentary.

Rohan returned to Canada in February 2014 when he was diagnosed with cancer, to receive treatment, and to be with his family. To ESPNcricinfo’s credit, they were supportive of Rohan during his treatment and recovery, and left his spot open for him to reclaim upon regaining his health. And so, when he felt strong enough to throw himself back in to the arduous job of BBB commentator -with the Cricket World Cup 2015 only a few weeks away, he knew he had to be back to have a chance at commentary during the global tournament – Rohan returned during the Sri Lanka tour of New Zealand early 2015, doing BBB off the TV in his bedroom in Canada.

Rohan was allotted nearly 20 games to commentate during the World Cup, last of which was the 2nd Quarterfinal between India and Bangladesh at Melbourne* on March 19, 2015. It was during this game that he made a mistake of missing the action on one delivery (Over 46.4 of India Innings), and compounded it by copying-and-pasting the commentary from another cricket site’s BBB commentary. A keen-eyed fan from India noticed the plagiarism and tweeted the screenshots, and one of his friends tagged ESPNcricinfo’s Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal on the tweet.

Rohan sure has his reasons as to why he committed one of the cardinal mistakes; his health, the time difference between Adelaide and Toronto (14 hours), the fatigue of doing BBB for nearly 20 games, and his desire not to be seen as missing out on a delivery, and more importantly, the possible appointment to do BBB commentary for the semifinals and Final of the World Cup. No matter his reasons, he knows he committed serious plagiarism and owned up to it right away to his superiors at ESPNcricinfo as the Tweet with the screenshots went viral. ESPNcricinfo took him off BBB during Bangladesh’s reply in the Quarterfinal, and Mr. Bal tweeted the following in the aftermath:

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Rohan, true to Mr. Bal’s words, has not worked for ESPNcricinfo again. As much as one can quibble with the harshness and the swiftness of ESPNcricinfo’s actions and that Rohan did not get a second chance to prove himself, they must be congratulated on taking plagiarism seriously, and their desire to uphold the highest standards.

Which brings us to the story I have been following the last 12 days, that of Ed Smith, an ESPNcricinfo columnist, pulling a Melania Trump [Follow up #1, Follow up #2]. Based on inquiries, it is beyond any doubt that Mr. Smith borrowed extensively from a column in The Economist and did not find it fit to provide acknowledgment or attribution. It was only after it became public – through this blog – a belated attribution was provided in his ESPNcricinfo piece.

I have followed up with Mr. Smith – to obtain a clarification, and also Mr. Bal, regarding the belated attribution and any follow up action. I have not received any clarification from either, and it is my understanding that Mr. Bal would use the platform he has to address the issue (that is, if they feel there is anything to be addressed, at all) rather than respond to my queries on the record. At the time of writing this blogpost, there hasn’t been any public announcements from ESPNcricinfo, and in fact, Mr. Smith has a new column published earlier today on that site, titled, “Why cricket’s national stereotypes are outdated“.

That there has been no action taken publicly beyond a belated attribution (and a self-serving footnote screaming ‘entitlement’), and that Mr. Smith has continued with his bi-weekly column at ESPNcricinfo, it is very reasonable to conclude that ESPNcricinfo’s standards are applied unequally: a lowly BBB commentator is fired promptly for plagiarism and his firing is made public on the Editor-in-chief’s Twitter timeline, while a former England cricketer turned commentator/columnist (the ultimate establishment guy) is seen to be treated with, if at all, kid gloves.

ESPNcricinfo are well within their rights to treat their employees and columnists any which way they seem fit. But when, in one case, the issue is used to pronounce the lack of any room for tolerance of misdeeds, while in the other, barely a peep has been registered, it is the very definition of “double standard“.

As someone who contributed podcasts to ESPNcricinfo for three years, I have always admired the editorial standards of ESPNcricinfo, and I have a lot of respect for what they have accomplished as a journalistic entity in the cricket landscape. So it is as a well-wisher of ESPNcricinfo that I must record my disappointment in their handling of seemingly two similar issues in two vastly different manners. As George Orwell wrote, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others“. 

*-Updated with the correct venue, thanks to @shyamuw for pointing out the error. The post originally said “Adelaide”.

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