The Guardian world cricket forum: how not to use social media

Kenwyn Williams, executive secretary of the USA Cricket Association, in a masterclass of digging a hole for yourself

Have you ever seen a bear try to make sense of a teapot? It’s a terrible business. Unable to wrap its paws around the handle or grasp the pot’s purpose in its tiny mind, the bear gets bewildered, then it turns irate, and finally it gets furious and flies into a terrible rage. Which is why, when you have a bear over to tea, you should always offer to play mother and do the pouring yourself.

So, if you learn nothing else from this article, at least you have one new little nugget of knowledge to take away with you. And if you think it’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself across the table from a bear brandishing a teapot, let me introduce you to the closest thing – a cricket administrator making a hamfisted attempt to engage with social media.

This time last week I, like many people, had never heard of Kenwyn Williams, the executive secretary of the United States of America Cricket Association. Seven days on, things have changed. I, like many people, have now heard of Williams. And the man himself is no longer the executive secretary of the USACA because he has been suspended from his post.

Williams’ is one of the great self-inflicted wounds, almost – if not quite – up there with the memorable occasion when British General William Elphinstone dropped one of his own pistols and accidentally shot himself in the buttock.

Learned bunch as the world cricket forum readers are, you’ll all no doubt know that Elphinstone was described by one of his peers as “the most incompetent soldier who ever became a general”. History does not yet know quite how highly Williams’ contemporaries rate his own handiwork – the USACA board is due to hold a hearing examining his behaviour on 10 November – but we can only note that in the cases of both British generals and cricket administrators, the competition for the title awarded to Elphinstone is especially fierce.

This fiasco – the latest in a long, long line in the USACA’s recent history – began on 13 October, when Williams took objection to an article written on Cricinfo by Peter Della Penna. I’ve never met Della Penna and can tell you nothing about any loyalties or alliances he may or may not have among the game’s officials in the US. But I do know that I like his work, and that he has worked, tirelessly and determinedly, to shed a little light on the decidedly murky world of cricket administration in that country.

Williams snapped. A message was posted on the USACA’s official Facebook page: “Peter Della Penna continues his unethical journalistic bias by writing yet another scathing article on USA cricket’s internal affairs.” Ouch. Williams was soon challenged to back up his claim. And he started swinging his punches so wildly that he ended up clobbering himself in the chops. Repeatedly. Firstly, he threatened to sue Della Penna:

“If you were any ‘journalist’, you would realise that your blogs are overly obsessive and therefore not covered by any protection under the law as none of you are professional journalist [sic]. And yes Peter, you will be sued.”

“What other sport in the USA,” Williams complained, “has three people constantly baddgering [sic] its administrators? There is a clear agenda to defame the organisation.”

Williams then turned on Martin Williamson, who is not only an excellent cricket journalist but also managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that ESPN, an American company, owns Cricinfo, which is the most read cricket website in the world, and has almost a million readers in the USA alone. That bang you just heard? That’d be the sound of a man shooting himself in the buttock.

“In the USA, journalists need to be QUALIFIED and belong to an organisation that endorses their profession,” Williams raved. “There are ethical standards that needs [sic] to be met. Bloggers – like yourself and Peter get around this professional endorsement by only using the internet to spew venom. Ask yourself if your garbage could ever be considered for publication in the magazine. Reason: you and Peter and other bloggers are unqualified as professional journalists.

“America has standards Martin – you don’t just wake up one day and decide that you are a journalists [sic]. Especially if your career before your obsession with USACA was selling knives for a living. Sorry – send Peter to journalism school to learn the basics. Then send him to the New York Press Club to become a member and then to the NYPD to get a press pass. I need to see credentials and so will a judge.”

Exactly why Williams wanted to send Della Penna to the New York Police Department isn’t clear. But he was only just warming up. He became oddly fixated on the previous careers of both Della Penna and Williamson. “For an organisation not to adress [sic] the inaccuracies and defamatory statements by a bizzarre [sic] ex-knife salesman is bizzarre [sic]. Welcome to the age of social media. EVERY organisation does it,” he shot at Della Penna, before pausing to reload and take aim at Williamson: “MW on your resume … I actually doubt that you worked for Barclays after HS there is no record of it. My basic point … any bloke can tout himself to be a journalist. As you well know you are hiding behind the internet.”

“Again,” Williams added. “These people are not ‘journalist’ [sic] by any variation on the definition of the profession. I beg Peter and Martin to prove to me they are qualified as journalists. They are internet bloggers and have NO journalistic privilege. NONE!!! ESPN will have to make a decision on these two if they want to do business with USA cricket.”

On and on it goes. For the sake of space, I’ll suggest that you if you’d like to read more you go and have a look here, here, and here. By now, news of Williams meltdown had spread, and he had gone on to swap shots with Iain O’Brien, the former Kiwi fast bowler, who was told by Williams, somewhat cryptically, that “I am a marketing and brand expert as you can well see. It looks bad but its intended.”

A little like a man who has spent so long shovelling that he hasn’t realised how deep a pit he has dug for himself, Williams suddenly stopped, looked up, and realised he needed a way out.

He offered a free iPad to whoever left the 1,000th comment on the thread and then explained that “Everything I do is a calculated risk. I needed to silence Peter’s informant and that has been accomplished. I also needed to let the world know that ESPN is sponsoring two of the worst bloggers on the planet. We need bettr [sic] writers if USA Cricket is going to progress. Their obsession with USA Cricket is uncanning [sic] – especially for Martin who does not even live here or understand our culture.”

The USACA’s “marketing and brand expert” certainly moves in mysterious ways, as far beyond our ken as the teapot is to the bear. The thread has since disappeared. As have, one imagines, Mr Williams’ chances of promotion.

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