USACA Facebook mess just the tip of the iceberg
For the past six days, cricket fans on social media have been abuzz with news of a major social media meltdown by the United States of America Cricket Association, with the mess at one point attracting more attention on twitter than the Champions League Twenty20 tournament.
Whilst the USACA have since distanced themselves from the posts, they only serve to highlight problems within US cricket.
As some readers will be aware from a previous article on CricketEurope, the USACA recently updated its 100 day plan, a bit more than 100 days since it was published, and with more than 100 days still to run. Peter Della Penna, a freelance writer who regularly contributes to ESPNCricinfo on US cricket, also wrote an article on the press release, including some internal e-mail communication obtained - quite legally - from a source within the USACA board.
The e-mails concerned disagreement within the board over the content of the press release, specifically from Executive Secretary Kenwyn Williams, who, as mentioned in my previous article, has something of a grudge with Della Penna.
Despite the current attempt to distance themselves carried on the usaca.org website, the USACA Facebook page is indeed the official Facebook page of the organisation, though it is administered by the aforementioned Williams.
Upon coming across Della Penna's article, Williams took to the Facebook page to castigate him, calling Della Penna "unethical" and accusing him of "journalistic bias". The first commenter, David Mutton, a New York based sometime blogger on US cricket, quite correctly pointed out that "investigating the internal affairs of public organizations is an essential part of journalism" in a comment that was one of a number that were eventually deleted.
Williams - who consistently posted as an official representative of the USACA, which indeed he is - replied to indicate that as Mutton was a blogger with no journalistic credentials that "no portection (sic) is afforded to you under the law", following it with a thinly veiled threat of legal action.
Two things soon became apparent - 1) That Williams thought that David Mutton was an alter-ego of Della Penna, an accusation he would go on to level against a number of others, and 2) Williams was hopelessly misinformed when it came to what journalists/bloggers were and could do.
The first point eventually led to amusing "I'm Spartacus" moments, with a number of commenters claiming to be the "real" Peter Della Penna, only to be shouted down by those - including, I most confess, myself - claiming that they in fact were Peter Della Penna.
On the second point, Williams was seemingly operating under the misapprehension that only those with a journalism degree who were published in print were allowed to call themselves journalists under US law, and that, as a mere blogger (or blooger, to pick one of Williams' many spelling errors) he had no protection from any legal action that USACA wished to undertake against him.
The thread eventually went viral, with some high profile cricket writers making an appearance. All had their credentials questioned. Andrew Miller, editor of the well established Cricketer magazine contributed to the thread, as did former Cricinfo managing editor, and current ESPN EMEA managing editor Martin Williamson. Even a former Test cricketer - New Zealand's Iain O'Brien - got in on the act, repeatedly offering to help coach in the US, before he was eventually blocked from the page.
Williamson - a mere blogger according to Williams - also attracted Williams ire, with Williams claiming that Williamson and Della Penna represented the "fake press" and that Williams had exposed them and made them obsolete. As many pointed out, the only thing being exposed was the incompetence and craziness of Williams.
When it was pointed out that as the USACA were attempting to start a working relationship with ESPN, it probably wasn't wise to attack and threaten legal action towards two of their employees, Williams said that ESPN would have to dismiss Williamson and Della Penna if they wished to be involved with cricket in the US. The naivety was almost charming.
Only one commenter ever agreed with Williams, though the style of their comments made it rather obvious that it was an alter-ego of Williams. Scores and scores of commenters arrived at the thread to poke fun at Williams, who continued with his badly spelt, barely coherent rants unabated.
Williams eventually turned nasty though, when he called Jamie Harrison, the president of the United States Youth Cricket Association, "a self promoter that takes advantage of every photo op available" and that he "does nothing for youth cricket".
Nothing of course could be further from the truth, as the USYCA has introduced hundreds of thousands of American schoolchildren to the sport, and has started a real grassroots movement in the country. The commenters on the thread aware of Harrison and the USYCA lept to his defence, but Williams didn't care, continuing with his rants. At one point he claimed that as the deal with Cricket Holdings America over the proposed Twenty20 league was the main concern, grassroots cricket "would have to wait". Of course, therein lies the problem with US cricket and is why people like Harrison are needed.
Harrison has remained silent on the problems affecting the USACA - until now. Invited to contribute to contribute to this article for CricketEurope, he provided us with a substantial statement, which is repeated in full below.
"Of course, what we're seeing here from USACA isn't much of a departure what what we've seen in the past. These 'incidents' tend to happen a few times each year, it's just that because social media is involved, now the rest of the world gets a peek at our reality.
"But, if you dig deeper, there's a bigger issue at play, and that is that very few people actually care about USA cricket. Almost none, in fact.
"If you ask the millions of American cricket fans to name their favorite team, I could count on one hand the number that would say, "USA." If you ask international cricket stakeholders about America, they talk of the USA cricket market, American economic power, or corporate sponsorships. No one, and I mean no one, really has an interest in "American cricket."
"This apathy ends up equating into a total lack of accountability from our national governing body, which is why things go on and on as they do, unchecked. So long as the incompetence doesn't appear to block access to 'the American cricket market,' it doesn't seem as if anyone cares. And who pays? Those of us trying to grow American cricket. But USYCA is trying to change this by getting American children to love the game and to grow up playing it.
"I think that years from now, perhaps the greatest contribution of USYCA, and the most far-reaching, will be the creation of an indigenous American cricket fan base that cares enough about our national team that it will hold us to the highest possible expectations, and most importantly, refuse to accept substandard results or inept leadership.
"If the USA is ever to rise to the upper echelons of international cricket, this development is foundational."
Harrison, as anyone who has been following US cricket closely in recent years will know, hits the nail on the head with the above, and it requires no addition comment from this writer.
Williams is still in control of the USACA official Facebook and Twitter accounts, and has now moved on to outright xenophobia, saying that he was going to block and delete all foreigners. He is now claiming - quite laughably - that US cricket will survive on it's own without any outside assistance. His comments are more and more becoming the ramblings of a mad man. He genuinely believes that he has exposed Della Penna and can legally prevent him from writing anything more. He also genuinely believes that his actions are positive for US cricket.
This Facebook meltdown by Williams is just the tip of the iceberg for USACA, despite their current attempts to distance themselves from him. The same people who presided over two suspensions from the ICC are still in charge of US cricket. Whilst they seem to be trying to remove Williams - reportedly under heavy ICC influence - throwing away one bad apple doesn't change the fact that the whole organisation is rotten to the core.
It is about time that the ICC stepped in and removed the entirety of the USACA board, replacing it with a commission that has the best interests of US cricket at its heart to move away from the self-interested money grabbing people currently on the board.
These problems have existed for years and removing one individual will not solve them. True root and branch reform is needed. An investment in true grassroots cricket is needed for the USA to take off as a cricketing nation, not wild-eyed dreams of a lucrative Twenty20 league with $40 million franchises owned by Hollywood stars.
The (almost) final word should perhaps be given to Peter Della Penna - the man who wrote the article that sparked the Facebook thread that at the time of writing stands at over 1500 comments, the vast majority critical. Speaking to CricketEurope, Della Penna said, "The rest of the cricket world is now becoming aware of what cricket stakeholders in the USA experience on a regular basis."
Indeed they are. Because whilst this whole mess has been by far the most prominent incident of USACA incompetence, it is just one moment in a whole recent history of an organisation that is clearly no longer fit for purpose. They all need to go, not just this one man.