One could be forgiven for not knowing a lot about the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA). I am an American who loves cricket, but for a long time I was still only dimly aware of them. I learnt a lot more yesterday, however. Last Saturday they used their facebook page to accuse a journalist, Peter Della Penna, of bias and unethical behaviour. They never said why or for what specifically, but they also suggested they would sue him and that he was ‘a blogger’ and that since he was not a journalist he had no legal protection.
Amazingly, this was not some low-level computer guy running the account and talking nonsense. The operator of the USACA account is the Executive Secretary of the USACA, Kenwyn Williams. He is certainly a man who should know that not only is Della Penna a journalist, (the article was on ESPNCricinfo, the largest cricket-only website in the world and obviously affiliated with US sports giants ESPN) even those who he considers ‘bloggers’ are afforded the same legal protections as journalists. But that was just the beginning of the story. The post started to get noticed internationally due to Twitter and from there is became a perfect example of how not to use social media.
Williams started by stating that Della Penna was unqualified to be a journalist because he used to sell knives for a living and that he was not a member of the New York Press Club and, bizzarely, would have to go to the NYPD to get a press pass. Never mind the fact that the link he subsequently gave applied only to NYPD press conferences. He also accused other posters of being alter-egos for Della Penna (who himself never posted). He asked Martin Williamson, an executive editor at ESPNCricinfo, to explain a hole in his resume from many years ago and said that because Williamson had never had anything published to paper he too was just a blogger and had no credibility. As the post quickly started to go viral, Williams defended his tactics stating that in the age of social media every organisation behaved like this.
At this point there were dozens of people from all around the world reading and posting, all of them making fun of Williams’ suggested qualifications. Former New Zealand Test cricketer, Iain O’Brien even offered to come play for the US team. The fact that Williams did not recognise the name of one of the better bowlers of recent times spoke volumes. He did not even respond to O’Brien’s offer to come coach the side. Andrew Miller, the editor of The Cricketer magazine (and who thus is only an NYPD certification away from being a journalist, apparently) even posted only to have his credentials called into question as well and to be told that ‘small fish’ were not welcome. I cannot in this summary possibly do justice to the wit of some of the comments on that page.
It is hard to think of a worse social media strategy than this. It was bad enough to accuse a reputable journalist of unethical behaviour, though this would certainly not be the first time. It was bizarre to claim that only those with passes from the NYPD were qualified. But Williams never just let it go. It would have only ever been mildly remarkable if he had just let it go. But no. Despite thousands of people reading the thread and dozens of those commenting on it to tell him he was being a lunatic he never realised that it was a bad thing. He even responded to me (although he got my name wrong of course) to say that it was intentional. He boasted of the number of people to see the page. And amazingly he offered an iPad to the 1,000th comment.
This, and the 42 left over, are a reference to the fact that when he was elected to his position over forty of the voting regions were disenfranchised and of the remaining 15, ten were offered iPads to vote for him. It was an incredible bit of gall and that was not even the end of the matter. The thread went on for another 500+ comments and is still not fully quiet.
The level of this disaster for USA cricket is hard to state. What was up to now a mostly disregarded affiliate board is now probably the single biggest laughingstock in world cricket. But what is worse is the clear toll this is taking on the game inside the country. The fact that it is mismanaged has been laid bare more by their own Executive Secretary than by anything that any journalist (or blogger) could have written. And the game within the United States is in a bad shape. Clearly, however, it won’t be improving soon.