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Respect the athlete, respect the game

Published: 
Sunday, April 22, 2018
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Shaun Fuentes

How things have changed. When Babe Ruth and the Yankees travelled by train, the newspaper writers knew the score. Babe wasn’t exactly a saint. But the writers protected his image.

Nowadays, every public and private move is exposed on the Internet and then makes it way to traditional media. The old ways of thinking “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” or “just as long as they spell my name right,” no longer apply.

Human drama is one of the most compelling aspects of sports. But we don’t have to agree with that. What happened last week when I saw Michelle-Lee Ahye was plastered on the front page of this newspapers for a non sporting reason I was not happy. In one of my previous columns last month, I wrote that we should not wait until the Michelle-Lee Ahyes of our land medal at a prestigious competition before we decided it was time to market such individuals particularly as role models. So the question to be asked remains that had she not won gold at the Commonwealth Games, would such front page splash had been seen as a seller?

Pure athletic achievement is fun to experience and brings an emotional rush that we crave so often but the story lines perhaps makes it more interesting. It provides the bedrock for much sports coverage, but it doesn’t mean we need to know what their private activities entails unless you’re reminding me that Dwight Yorke used to do 200 sit ups and push ups in his room every morning. I remember taking notes with the skipper in his hotel room one evening after training in Rotenburg during the 2006 World Cup, and the interview was being done while he completed 200 crunches. He had just completed the regular training session with his team-mates no more than thirty minutes before.

Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio said that a big reason why his publication began covering things like the NFL draft, the NBA free-agency window, and the NBA trade deadline is because people want more now than the actual game. Finocchio added that there has been a shift more generally for athletes to open up their lives to fans, pushing the intimacy boundaries further and further. But it must be a carefully thought out process. Not that Ahye stepped out of lane, but our athletes and heroes must also be careful of what they put out there. Sporting organizations, management staff and agents also have a responsibility to ensure their athletes project the right image. And the athlete themselves must take it seriously. How often do you see the real global superstars such as Lionel Messi, golfer Rory McIlroy or boxing champ Anthony Joshua posting videos or images of them popping bottles flanked by women twerking. I can count on both my hands how many regional athletes, yes from T&T also, have made such postings on their fan and individual pages with similar content for this year already. And no, not because Usain Bolt or Chris Gayle did it mean that it's right.

Sometimes though we forget that athletes are people too. Sometimes they forget that fact also, or the fact, that they are more recognisable people. What they do and say matters to us. Maybe more than it should, but it matters. And we have our part to play because the next little runner from Arima or Roxborough may be following Ahye’s exploits now, being inspired to becoming our next Commonwealth Games gold medal winner in twelve years. But seeing such headlines as last week may put unnecessary fear into her and who knows, we the fans may be robbed of getting the real story behind her success simply because she is so guarded against what direction the story may take.

How important is it to protect athletes and from what? Athletes are the mainstay of sports and therefore they are to be helped with life-skills that after their days in sports, could guide their actions and can continue to inspire a generation while they are still kicking it around or flying down the tracks.

There is an Olympic Philosophy that says: Learn so much about sports. Learn how to lose, and learn how to come back, learn to use the experiences to become a better person. This is applicable to all of us. So the objective of sports, as far as the Olympic Ideal is concerned is doing away with “other” influences to be able to perform and celebrate the joy of personal effort rather than create a “bacchanal” or shame. We should follow the Olympic Spirit to inspire the young and old to adopt healthy and active lifestyles that are built on the values of friendship, excellence, honour, pride and respect.

Editor's Note:

Shaun Fuentes is a media trainer, coaching athletes how to present themselves before cameras and how to handle the microphone. He was a FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and has travelled to over 75 countries to serve in sport as media operations manager. He also serves as a CONCACAF Events Media operations officer.

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