Jamaica’s Whitewashing of Lawrence Rowe’s Career Needs to Run Out

The West Indies versus the touring Pakistan 2-tests-cricket-series concluded last month with the visitors winning the 2nd test to level a very entertaining series. Both matches were held at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica.

On the outside of Sabina Park these days is a set of mural images in honour of some of Jamaica’s past and present cricketers. The mural images include the likes of George Headley, Allan Rae, Collie Smith Jr, Maurice Foster, Michael Holding, Jimmy Adams, Stefanie Taylor, Chris Gayle, Jeffrey Dujon, Courtney Walsh and Nikita Miller.

But one face of note missing from the wall is that of former Jamaican and West Indian batsman Lawrence Rowe whose career spanned from the mid 1960s until the early 1980s.

However, Rowe was banned for life from all forms of cricket for touring then apartheid South Africa in 1982/83 with a West Indian rebel squad. Such a tour was in contravention of the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement – signed off by Commonwealth heads of government – that deterred sporting relations with South Africa.

Yagga Rowe

The lifetime ban affected many other top West Indian players  who toured with  Rowe including compatriots such as Herbert Chang, Richard Austin, Ray Wynter and Everton Mattis. Barbados did ban their players for a limited period.

As a kid I saw these cricketers play in Jamaica at the national and local levels. Chang, Austin and Rowe all played for the same club – Kensington – which was just star studded. Wynter was a productive fast bowler for perennial winners Kingston Cricket Club (home ground – Sabina Park) and Mattis (Lucas Club) was then an entertaining stroke player that attacted large crowds.

Early into his regional and global career Rowe lit up cricket with batting that drew plaudits and fanatical fans from across the Caribbean. Rowe’s batting heroics made him an inspiration to up and coming cricketers such as Michael Holding and Vivian Richards.

Rowe was affectionately known as “Yagga”.

Rebels Spun Out

For touring apartheid South Africa Rowe and his rebel team mates were not just banned from all forms of cricket, the Jamaican contingent was ostracised from local society. They were been treated far worse than local criminals of the vilest kind.

The scorning of these players was way too extreme and disgraceful by the Jamaican community. The outrage by the political classes in particular was so  opportunistic and downright disingenuous given their track record on human decency and links to violence. Some of the political class with such questionable records have had landmarks such as schools in their honour. No one speaks out.

This hounding of the players led to some of rebels – upon their return to the Caribbean –  suffering lifelong hardships and mental issues. I felt the bullying by so-called activists was so wrong and the likes Austin was left in the gutter literally. Mattis and Chang had their own emotional and mental challenges which has been well documented and reported on in recent years. Rowe eventually emigrated to the US to get away from the abuse.

Richard Austin: the tragic fall from West Indies allrounder to shoeless street beggar – UK Guardian, August 2020

The political classes across the Caribbean may have be vocal about the South Africa situation. Yet in countries such as Jamaica and Guyana their political and big business leaders were not the best examples of black empowerment for their own black population during this period.

I was disappointed Rowe and the other West Indians went to South Africa but cricket then for top players in the Caribbean was not a well paid profession.

I did not support the lifetime ban. I felt a ban of 1-2 years would suffice.

But I felt that a black team going to play a white South African team and defeating would give some pyschological boost to the African mindset. Also I felt that we needed black Caribbean people on the ground in South Africa to witness and report back to the Caribbean leaders and community.

Money Short

It was common knowledge back then that West Indies teams of the 1970s and 1980s were the best in the world. The depth of cricketing talent was so plentiful that some very good players had no chance of playing cricket for their Caribbean country much less the West Indies.

West Indian cricket administrators in that era did not do their level best to ensure these players were well remunerated and playing enough local cricket to earn a decent living.

During in the 1970s and 1980s West Indian test players sometimes would play just 4-5 test matches in a calender year and that was it. The top non-test cricketers across the Caribbean played just at total 4-5 inter island matches per year.

The financial situation in cricket was so dire that some really talented players left the West Indian game completely. Some went to play league cricket in England some emigrated to North America and gave up the sport.

How was any West Indian professional cricketer – without a lucrative contract in English county cricket- to survive financially?

Many of those West Indian test players survived financially thanks to contracts to play cricket in England and Wales during the summer period. Hence why most of those with such contracts did not accept the offers from Ali Bacher chief negotiator for the South African cricket.

[One of the ironies of that period when South Africa was banned from international cricket was that in English county cricket West Indian cricketers played along side white South African players in the same team.]

The Barbadian cricket officials did not give lifetime bans to their players who toured aparthied South Africa. Thus the likes of Ezra Moseley and Frankyln Stephenson managed return to their professional careers.

Mosley went on to play briefly for the West Indies. He became a respected coach in Barbados before his sudden passing earlier this year which led to glowing tributes from many of his compatriots and mentees including former West Indies captain Jason Holder.

Stephenson went on to have a very successful career in English county cricket becoming one of the top all rounders in the world.

But for some reason too many in Jamaica saw it fit to continue punishing their own rebels. Part of this punishment is to erase their cricketing existence.

It was wrong for the cricketing authorities in  Jamaica to ban the players from earning a living for life from the sport they were good at. A person such as Rowe should have been given the opportunity to coach locally after serving a ban.

Indeed, I was surprised that the cricketers did not mount some legal challenge against the local officials for restraint of trade (I stand corrected).  

What African/Black History?

I remember before the rebel tour commenced that one of the Jamaican players remarked that he knew very little about African history or its politics.

He was right.

Schools and media in the 1970s and 1980s Jamaica barely touched African or Black history in any detail.

Our knowledge of anything African tended to come via reggae music, Rastafari, BBC World News or (if you had access) Newsweek/Times magazines.

Marcus Garvey may have been anointed a National Hero in Jamaica but little was ever done in Jamaican schools to discuss even the basic philosophies of the great man which was about empowerment of black people.

But this was no surprise given the political class had banned a number US-based civil rights activists from entering Jamaica including Malcolm X. Certain black empowered books were also banned in the 1960s. During the Michael Manley government of the 1970s certain reggae songs were banned from the radio waves for its rebellious message e.g. “Fire Burning” by Bob Andy

If Jamaican and Guyanese governments were so pro-black back then why did the former ban the Guyanese historian and Pan-Africanist – Dr Walter Rodney – from Jamaica and was eventually killed by the latter in June 1980?

[in 2016 a Commission of Inquiry concluded that Rodney was assassinated by the Guyanese government of Forbes Burnham. Burnham’s government was well known for brutallising the population through extra judicial killings in order to maintain power. Yet in 1981 Burnham was the most vocal of the anti apartheid Caribbean heads of government and banned England from playing a test match in Guyana because it included Robin Jackman a white South African born cricketer.]

Draw Yagga

Let’s hope the political and cricketing authorities come to their senses, show some backbone and add a mural of Rowe to the wall. Adding a mural of Rowe is not an honour in the grandoise sense but simply a small acknowlegement of Yagga’s existence.

Whitewashing Rowe from the annals of the island’s rich cricketing history does Jamaica and Jamaicans a disservice.

How can Sabina Park ignore a man like Rowe who aguably delivered the greatest batting display in the history of that iconic venue when he score a double century and a century on debut against New Zealand in 1972?

The idea of murals of Jamaican cricketers past and present outside Sabina Park is an excellent move. One that should be copied across the first class cricketing teams to remember the players that once played for them with distinction.

I am sure in time the likes of  former cricketers such as J.K Holt, Vivalyn Latty- Scott, Gerry Alexander, Basil Williams, Patrick Patterson, Arthur Barrett and others  will eventually find their place on the walls of Bina.

Despite not playing for the West Indies I also feel former wicketkeeper/batsman Renford Pinnock deserve an impression on the wall for serving Jamaica with distinction in regional cricket. Umpires Douglas Sang Hue and Steve Bucknor need to be including too.

Just don’t leave Yagga from Bina’s wall of fame.

Useful Sources

Grange erects Jamaica’s Cricket Wall, Walk of Fame as part of mural project

Honouring the dishonourable “Rowe should first offer unconditional apologies for his wrongdoing AND for not apologising before. ” – Gleaner 2011

Branded a rebel: Cricket’s forgotten men “Well, yes I was a mercenary for black people’s cause, because wherever I’ve been, I’ve been an ambassador for my country, my race and the game of cricket. So if that’s being a mercenary, then yes I was.” – Franklyn Stephenson”

Commission of Inquiry 2016 Surrounding the Death of Dr Walter Rodney

About africanherbsman1967

Ideas Man
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