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Paul Adams: I was nicknamed ‘brown s*** when I was playing’


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The former spinner reveals several instances of racial discrimination across his playing and coaching career

Former South African wristspinner Paul Adams has revealed several instances of racial discrimination, including being nicknamed “brown s***” by his team-mates, across his playing and coaching career. Speaking at Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) Social Justice and Nation-Building Hearings, Adams called for greater education to ensure people of all races are treated with respect going forward.
Adams was the only player of color in the XI when he made his Test debut in 1995 and remained a minority in race terms throughout his nine-year career, which he described as “not all fun and games,” largely because he was subject to racial stereotyping inside and outside the team.

“I was called brown s*** when I was playing. It often used to be a song when we won a game and we were in fines’ meetings. They would sing, ‘brown s*** in the ring, tra la la la laa,'” Adams said, adding that his wife, who was then his girlfriend, was the first to ask him why he was called that and say it was not right. “When you are playing for your country, when you have had that victory, you don’t make sense of it, you brush it off, but it’s blatantly racist. Some people will say unconscious bias and they weren’t aware but this is why we are here – to change that.”

Adams also recalled how he was viewed by certain sections of the media, who, he said, used preconceived ideas about people of his race, Cape Coloured, as criminals to describe his bowling action.

“It [my action] would be described as ‘stealing hubcaps off moving cars’ and I found it derogatory. Was it because I was born in the Cape Flats? Is it always that Cape Coloreds are referred to as gangsters and thieves?”

“When I burst on the scene, I was very different: my action, I was very different from the norm, from how I looked, the music I played and even how I spoke. But one thing stood out for me, which was how some parts of the media described my bowling action. It would be described as ‘stealing hubcaps off moving cars’ and I found it derogatory. Was it because I was born in the Cape Flats? Is it always that Cape Coloreds are referred to as gangsters and thieves? It’s a form of racial stereotyping.”

Adams’ acknowledged that although he didn’t speak out against prejudice in his playing days, “it has been sitting in my head and I just haven’t had a platform to speak out about it”, and he was aware of the challenges and pressures of being a player of color in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I got many messages and a special message from Tata Nelson Mandela [South Africa’s former president],” Adams said. “He expressed to me how important I was for the country and what it meant. That’s when I sat back and felt there’s more to this game of cricket than just me walking out onto the cricket field. I represented a new generation of young black South Africans performing in the world. It hadn’t been seen before.

“I was super proud of how I got there. However, it came with a lot of pressure. There was always pressure to win the game but the pressure I am talking about is the pressure of having to outperform white players. You always felt you had to do double the effort.”

In the early stages of his career, Adams was competing with offspinning allrounder Pat Symcox for a place in the XI. Symcox, who made his debut in 1993, played 20 Tests for South Africa, scoring 741 runs at 28.50 and taking 37 wickets at 43.32. In 80 ODIs, he had 694 runs at 16.92 and 72 wickets at 38.36. Adams, primarily a bowler, finished his career with 45 Tests (134 wickets at 32.87) and 24 ODIs (29 wickets at 28.10).

Adams felt Symcox was preferred to him because Symcox was white. “It felt like they were suppressing me and hiding me away. I had a feeling they didn’t want me to outshine the white player and rather just left me in that corner and sit and listen.”

He said the same thing still happens today. Symcox was one of three former internationals who Lungi Ngidi last year for asking that the national team make a stand for anti-racism.

“When Lungi Ngidi made a comment supporting it, there were some ex-players who came out and abused him,” Adams said. “Again, it was that mentality: you sit down in a corner, you keep quiet, and play cricket.

Now, long retired, older and wiser, Adams could not stay silent. Together with Ashwell Prince, he created a group of 31 former players and five coaches who issued a statement in support of Ngidi.

“As sportsmen, you have to play a bigger role in society,” Adams said. “You’ve got the opportunity, you’ve got the platform, you’ve got to create awareness.”

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