Monday, March 29, 2010

Guiding our youth after Champs

Juilian Forte (left) and Wolmer’s Boys’ teammate Dwayne Extol (right) celebrate their one-two finish in the Class One 200 metres on the final day of the 100th Boys’ and Girls’ Athletic Championships at the National Stadium last night. At centre is Kavean Smith of Jamaica Colege who finished seventh. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer | Monday, March 29, 2010

As our athletes bask in their achievements at our glorious Champs, we salute their parents, teachers and coaches. We are hoping that the winners will understand that victory comes with responsibility (at press time for this column the winners were not yet known).

It was with a heavy heart that I flipped through a recent issue of Time magazine and saw not one single model of colour promoting any of their high-end brands. The "most unkindest cut of all" came when I saw Leonardo di Caprio (an actor I admire) sporting a Tagheur watch. Tagheur/Tiger - what advertising genius we thought when we first saw the famous golfer sporting the Swiss brand, what a perfect match. An angry night and the revelation of a string of infidelities and suddenly our striding Tiger disappeared from the Accenture ads in Forbes and Fortune.

Oh yes, we know we'll still see him shaving with Gillette and wearing Nikes, but so does every other garden-variety sportsman. What made Tiger so special was that he had broken the glass ceiling of advertising, walking where people of colour were never known to tread.

Those who do not understand the impact of Tiger's "fall" should know that he had been carrying the combined minorities of America on his back - Asian, Native American and Black. He was their poster child who smiled his way from putting on the set of the Johnny Carson show to setting the pace at the Masters. His fall from grace was a blow to ethnic pride.

In fact, in June 2008, I had written: "I am convinced that the recent reign of Tiger Woods, the inspiring stories of his father's dedication played and replayed, Tiger's megawatt grin and fist-pumping on the course has acclimatised the widest cross-section of the American people to the possibility that another dignified, engaging Black American could triumph in a much, much bigger field." Sure enough, in January 2009, Woods was a participant in the celebrations for Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.

We in Jamaica now have our poster child, Usain St Leo Bolt. The fastest man in the world is not only selling Puma sneakers and Gatorade. He is stumping for BMW and Texaco. His heroic pose has turned the world into "signers" - we proclaim our athletic prowess "to the world!". He and his Olympic teammates are the manifestation of 100 years of our schoolboy athletic Championships and over 50 years of schoolgirls' Champs.

The world has responded, filling our hotels, bringing spectators from the diaspora, many of whom had their day on the stadium track, and guests from as far away as South Africa. That spring in our step, that swagger in our gait developed over a century of domination, from the early 20th century when a JC runner named Norman Manley held the world record for the 100-yard dash to our first outing in the Olympics when four legends, Wint, McKenley, Rhoden and Laing, wowed the world. Our athletes should take note of these names - the men who became professionals, leaders and mentors.

Let us use the example of Tiger Woods to counsel our young athletes about the dangers of celebrity. No doubt, Tiger Woods must take the blame for his misdeeds, but we should ask ourselves if naiveté played a role. Perhaps he had not been warned that his astronomical fortune would have made him a target for opportunists. He may survive to star another day. American-Mexican pop star Selena did not, after her fan club leader shot her dead when questioned about misappropriated funds.

Even as our renowned and emerging athletes continue their physical training, they should also be trained to separate the genuine friends and supporters from the hangers-on who come in many stripes and both genders. Having benefited from solid coaching, our athletes should work to keep and increase the admiration and respect they have earned. Their conduct can inspire and lift the nation.

Clifton Forbes

We pause here to reflect on that unforgettable JAAA stalwart, Clifton Forbes, who was recently laid to rest after serving athletics with distinction for several decades. Clifton personified the spirit of volunteerism, always contributing and never drawing attention to his service. He was a true gentleman, dignified and approachable.

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