Martin Devlin in wild on-air attack on ‘chick from the Spinoff’ over cricket banner

The only plausible explanation for the Radio Sport host’s diatribe against my colleague is an elaborate attempt at performance art – the alternative is heroic incoherence and worse, writes Toby Manhire

It was a belter of a night at Eden Park on Friday. A sell-out crowd. A sea of mostly Indian flags; drumming and chanting. A win for the New Zealand women’s team, a loss for the men’s. Altogether a good time.

But it wasn’t the most entertaining event of the weekend. That came the following morning on RadioSport, the station that mixes sports commentary and debate with comedy as old-fashioned as cave art. I happened to tune in shortly before noon, and there was Martin Devlin, chatting with Jim Kayes, delivering a masterclass in performance art, right up there with his experimental Twitter poetry.

Devlin was incensed – or at least pretended to be incensed – at Madeleine Chapman, aka “the chick from the Spinoff”, aka a “dickhead”, aka a “dork”, aka “the lowest form of life”. It was a bravura performance from Devlin, who has evidently worked hard to perfect the persona of New Zealand’s Angry Alan Partridge.

He was angry – or at least pretended to be angry – because Madeleine Chapman, who is a writer for the Spinoff, had draped a hand-painted banner over an upper-level Eden Park hoarding during the first game. The sign read: “Wait” is not “yes” between the wickets or the sheets, with a foonote: (Should be brought to you by NZ Cricket).

It was a message, very obviously, objecting to NZ Cricket’s silence around the selection of Scott Kuggeleijn and how that can be reconciled with their purported commitment to sexual consent principles. The argument is laid out, for example, here and here, but in short: Kuggeleijn is the man who went on trial in 2016 on rape charges, and again in 2017 after the jury couldn’t agree a verdict. It’s important to note that Kuggeleijn was acquitted. But it’s important, too, to observe that in court he accepted, for example, that he had ignored the plaintiff at least twice when she said to him: “no”. And anyone who believes that the fact of not being criminally convicted provides an obligation of silence, an automatic exemption from criticism, admonition or even redemption, just isn’t thinking very hard.

That was the context for a No Means No banner being unfurled at the first T20 double header in Wellington on Waitangi Day. Then, security guards attempted to confiscate the banner. That was an over-reaction, acknowledged New Zealand Cricket and Westpac Stadium afterwards, when they “apologised unreservedly”.

At Eden Park the sign didn’t stay up long, either: security hovered looking puzzled for a while before telling Chapman that because it was hanging over a sponsor’s sign it had to go. As far as I know Chapman didn’t argue about it – she’d made her peaceful protest, in her capacity as a moral human adult with an opinion.

But Devlin was incandescent – or at least pretended to be incandescent – about it all. In case you weren’t listening to Radio Sport late yesterday morning, here is what he said; it picks up from an exchange about Eden Park security allowing drums to be taken into the ground.

Martin Devlin: I tell you what they can confiscate. not only the stupid banner, that whoever it was, the chick from the Spinoff, and I’m calling her the chick from the Spinoff, whoever you are, trying to make a social media name for yourself by taking a banner into the cricket. You’re the lowest form of life is what you are. You’re a disgrace to the profession is what you are, and, really, you know, have your little 15 minutes of Twitter-whatever-fame that you think you have, the rest of us think you’re a dork.

Jim Kayes: I don’t think as a journalist you should be taking signs –

Devlin: She’s not a journalist, mate –

Kayes: Into grounds and manufacturing stories.

Devlin: Manufacturing stories and news! Get over yourself!

Kayes: If it’s a legitimate story –

Devlin: Look in the mirror and get over yourself.

Kayes: If it’s a legitimate story, report on it. But you should not be part of the story.

Devlin: Hope you’ve got no skeletons rattling away there, love.

Kayes: Yeah, that’s always the other –

Devlin: Oh! That’s patronising of me, isn’t it?

Kayes: Yeah, well.

Devlin: What you did was dickheadish, is what it was. If you were a guy that’s what we’d be calling you.

At first listen, I thought Devlin was being serious, but on reflection that seems impossible. Not just because Chapman wasn’t purporting to be acting as a journalist when she staged a modest and peaceful protest (for which, by the way, she received a bunch of supportive private messages from senior figures in both the women’s and men’s game). Moreover, he cannot be serious because it would be heroically incoherent to earnestly argue that journalists should not express their opinions in public if your entire job, if not existence, centres on being a journalist expressing your opinions in public, usually with the guttural cry of a wounded moose. Devlin’s shouty monologues are often smart and funny – he’s won awards for them.

So it’s frankly inconceivable that Devlin and Kayes – who seemed unperturbed at Devlin calling a young woman “that chick” and “the lowest form of life”, so must be in on the joke – are genuinely outraged at Chapman expressing an opinion on an issue that is especially, searingly real for young women. There’s no way they’d seriously be suggesting, would they, that it’s totally cool to express your opinion in public if it’s an important matter like the umpiring review system or who should play second-five for the All Blacks but unacceptable to express your opinion on trivial matters like consent and sexual misconduct? Does any serious person still believe that sport should be a silo, impervious to its political and social context? It’s 2019, not 1981.

And even though Devlin might have a history of using terms like “girl” and “pussy bitch” to attack his trolls, surely he wouldn’t seriously have a go, before an audience of many thousand “young guys into their sport“, at a young woman journalist expressing a principled opinion on the subject of sexual consent by calling her “that chick”, let alone spewing up something as insidious and creepy as “Hope you’ve got no skeletons rattling away there, love”.

No, Devlin clearly is doing performance art. After all, the person he dismisses as “that chick from the Spinoff” is one of the most acclaimed young journalists in New Zealand, her work including, just off the top of my head, award winning investigations, smart and funny examinations of women’s sport, and writing a terrifically good book with New Zealand sporting superstar Steven Adams. Below, meanwhile, a complete list of the important journalism Martin Devlin has done that springs to mind.

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