Hail, Antonio Watson
The recently held RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards showcased some of what is good about Jamaica. As the best paraded across the stage to receive their much-deserved tokens along with the accolades of a grateful audience, those anxious to see this small nation rise to its full potential had reason to keep hope alive.
Antonio Watson, who was the people’s choice for Sportsman of the Year stood out not because he is more deserving than Shericka Jackson or any of the other awardees but because of the dark place he ascended from to achieve local and world acclaim in less than three years.
At boys’ and girls’ champs inside the National Stadium on Saturday, May 15, 2021, the then Petersfield High School athlete, running in the class one 200 metres final, just before victoriously crossing the finish line, in an unmistakable gun gesture, looked behind at the advancing Edwin Allen athlete and fired a make-believe round. It didn’t end there. After crossing the finish line, in another gun gesture, he reached into his waist band, pulled out an imaginary weapon, loaded the clip, and looking into the grandstand squeezed off another round.
Blaming the inappropriate behaviour on everything from youthful exuberance to the toxic Jamaican culture, some officials and commentators were quick to accept an obviously hastily prepared and possibly forced apology from Watson. The Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association’s response, released via the press, was especially accommodating. “We accept his apology in recognition of our mission to use opportunities like these as teachable moments for our student athletes to adopt socially acceptable behaviour.”
Others, me included, were less accommodating. In one of my public commentaries, I went for the jugular. “Were I the principal of Petersfield High School the celebration for winning the boys’ class one 200 metres would be short-lived. Young Watson and his parents would be summoned to my office forthwith for the boy to be exorcised of the demon of the gun culture that pervades the society. Bad behaviour must be punished.”
The Antonio Watson who now sits at the top of Jamaican athletics is testimony to the fact that great heights can be reached without pandering to the worst in the culture. For that I hail him.
If you can’t vote for a party, vote
I have a soft spot for politicians. Born into the family of a preacher/politician in the then constituency of St James South Eastern, I have vivid memories of long days stretching into nights attending events with my father, Member of Parliament (MP), and responding to the needs of constituents. I also remember how he left politics a broken and broke man, having given of himself without receiving any special privileges.
The cynics will say politicians have changed from what they were back in the day. Maybe so when compared to politicians the ilk of C A Morgan. But the hardness of the job, the personal sacrifices, and the ingratitude have not changed that much.
Retired MP, Cabinet minister, and Speaker of the House Pearnel Charles in a December 29, 2019 Jamaica Observer story gave a graphic portrayal of the MP’s job. “There is no way $300,000 salary per month can compensate anybody who is truly going to want to represent a constituency. They come to your office every day with medical bills — those seeking help educating the child, providing books, uniform, transport, and food. Plus you must assist those who are not working. The politics that we play in Jamaica is not executive politics, where you drive pass and wave. The politics of the day is I will vote for you if you can assist me with my difficulties, and I promise to assist you if you vote for me. So when I win, I have to hide.”
Turned off by tribal politics and unmet promises, many Jamaicans see no virtue in politicians or value in political representation. Consequently, a minority of the electorate vote in national elections, local or general. But God forbid that I should ever lump all politicians together and cuss them without anything good to say. There is no perfect politician, but just like back in the days, there are some who unflinchingly do their work as MPs or members of the Cabinet.
My favourite is Olivia “Babsy” Grange. Indefatigable and engaged, she sets a high standard in professionalism and decorum. Desmond McKenzie, another protégé of the late former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, brings a no-nonsense approach to his work and retains enough of the street swag that makes him appear grounded. Edmund Bartlett is one for the annals, the consummate marketer who acts locally but thinks globally. Mark Golding, I get to see up close. He represents the constituency where my work is based. A bright and decent man who has had greatness thrust upon him. Julian Robinson, my MP, is an urbane and temperate soul who always shows up but never shows off as if better than those he serves. These are but a sample.
Voting is both a privilege and a benefit of living in a democracy. In the upcoming elections, if you can’t vote for a party, vote for the better candidate. But vote you must!
Dr Henley Morgan is founder and executive chairman of the Trench Town-based Social Enterprise, Agency for Inner-city Renewal and author of My Trench Town Journey — Lessons in Social Entrepreneurship and Community Transformation for Policy Makers, Development Leaders, and Practitioners. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.