Lessons from Mr Antonio Watson's 'gun hand' gestureTuesday, May 25, 2021
The typical nine-day wonder has reached the furore over the 'gun hand' gesture by Petersfield High School standout athlete Mr Antonio Watson at the 2021 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships at the National Stadium.
We have, in the meantime, very carefully reflected on the controversy over the hand gesture symbolising the shooting of a losing athlete — Edwin Allen's Mr Bryan Levell — and the fierce for-or-against arguments regarding Mr Watson's action for which he has apologised. The main points we found are as follows:
• The 19-year-old was merely mimicking what he had grown up around in the society, because children live what they learn.
• The gesture has to be seen in the context of Jamaica's troubling murder rate involving the gun.
• It's a class thing, and if Mr Watson had been from a top high school his action would be ignored.
• He shouldn't be condemned or chastised; instead, his vast athletic potential should be nurtured.
• Use the occasion as a teachable moment to espouse valuable lessons.
We made special note of the advice from our greatest athlete ever, Mr Usain Bolt, with whom the athlete is being compared: “Reason with him, yes, about his action, but don't crucify him… It's a learning lesson and teachable moment for all. Youths, be strong and remember anything is possible, don't think limits.”
Noteworthy, too, is the response from ISSA: “Champs has always been a time to showcase and celebrate talent. While we encourage the colourful behaviour of victory celebrations and acknowledge the value and excitement it brings to the championships, it should always be within the code of conduct that guides how we act on and off the field and track.”
It is interesting that the large majority of the criticisms were not about punishing the student, but were centred on what others were saying, which suggests that the outrage was an attempt by the society to assert acceptable standards.
We have seen a similar occurrence in the United States, which is known for mass killings, including at schools. The American media is replete with stories of schools suspending students for making similar gestures, in some cases with backlash from parents.
Since the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act mandating zero tolerance for students bringing guns to school in the US, administrators had been expanding that basic notion to include gun play with toy guns, food shaped into guns, and even hand gestures.
In August 2019 the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a lower court's ruling that a 64-year-old man was guilty of criminal disorderly conduct for “pointing a finger like a gun at a man, and making a recoil motion as if to suggest he had shot him”.
The Jamaican society should learn from others. We are particularly sensitive that our young athletes be guided, because an international sponsor such as Nike or PUMA wouldn't want to market their brand with an athlete making an offensive gun gesture.
But for now, we'll take Mr Watson at his word:
“Upon reflection, I recognise that my gestures could have been misleading and I have no desire to negatively influence others. In fact, going forward I aspire to demonstrate positive behaviours and attitudes that will inspire countless young Jamaicans to strive for excellence and make our country a true beacon of what is good in this world.”
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