By Andrew Both
(Reuters) - The punishment handed Shannon Gabriel for a gay slur directed at Joe Root was a little harsh, says former West Indies cricketer Ian Bishop, who at the same time acknowledged the fast bowler erred in his choice of words directed at the England captain.
Gabriel was suspended for the West Indies' four upcoming one day internationals by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after his verbal altercation with Root during the third test in St. Lucia on Monday.
The bowler said to Root: "Why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?"
To which Root replied: "Don't use that as an insult, there is nothing wrong with being gay."
Root's reply has been widely praised, and Gabriel has since apologised. Bishop has no doubt it was a sincere apology.
"I find the punishment a little on the harsh side," Bishop said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
"I know Shannon. He is a good, good guy.
"The question he posed, in the current cultural climate, he should not have said it, and down the road he will realise you can’t say something like that because it could be perceived as a bias against a certain group."
As a player, Bishop took 161 wickets in 43 tests at an average of 24.27 between 1989-98.
Now a widely respected television commentator in the Caribbean, the Trinidadian acknowledged that players had to be mindful that what not so long ago might have been passed off as a typical piece of on-field sledging was no longer fair game.
Bishop says that instead of suspending Gabriel, greater benefit would have been achieved had officials had a quiet talk to educate and sensitive the player, along the lines of:
"Look, we see you may not have meant great harm, but many of our players and stakeholders and people make their life choices to live by their own philosophy and that's their right.
"We feel it's not what we want to be seen or heard and prefer more sensitivity towards others."
Bishop hopes the poorly-chosen remark does not blight Gabriel's reputation.
"I will stand by his side and say he is not the demon person some have made him to be," he said of Gabriel.
"One scenario should not define who he is growing into as a person."
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Chopra)