Editorial: Talking truths at Calabar …and elsewhere
The Rev Karl Johnson, the chairman of Calabar High School, and Michael O'Hara, the school's star athlete, need to provide further and better particulars about that conversation which Master O'Hara says was his inspiration for his ambush marketing antics last week at the annual athletics championships for Jamaican high schools.
It would help if, in the process, there are no manufactured truths or distortion of the facts as to cause dissonance on the channels and the corruption of meaning. Important issues are at stake, including the principle of fair play and the values, ethical and moral, that Jamaica expects its schools, and other socialising institutions, to instil in its youth.
Of equal importance is the obligation of corporate entities to uphold ethical values, and especially to eschew the exploitation of the ignorant and the young.
Master O'Hara, who won four gold medals at Champs, told of a pre-Champs conversation he had with Rev Johnson about ordinary people daily doing extraordinary things, which became his inspiration on winning the 200 metres race, to lift his running vest to reveal an undershirt with the words 'Be Extraordinary'.
Nothing is wrong with a bit of celebratory gloating by a young man of his extraordinary achievements. Except that 'Be Extraordinary' is a tag line for advertising by the telecommunications company, Digicel, which just happened to disclose, not long after that race, that it had signed Master O'Hara as a 'brand ambassador', essentially a paid spokesman for Digicel's services and products. Except, too, that Digicel is not a sponsor of Champs - which are organised by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) - and their competitor, LIME, is.
Further, there is Rev Johnson's insistence that he knew nothing of Master O'Hara's contractual arrangement with Digicel, which would mean that he would not have knowingly endorsed the athlete's action. We are sure that even at his young age, Master O'Hara would not plead ignorance of the concept of ambush marketing, or that he does not have an instinctive sense of right or wrong. Nor would he not understand why many people believe, even if vulgarly induced, his action was deliberate and why, perhaps, LIME, and other sponsors of Champs, would not have been amused.
Perhaps, too, as an athlete and student, Master O'Hara would have heard, and embraced, the concept of fair play and that despite his school's ambition to win Champs, its leaders would have emphasised that athletics and competition among schools are extra-curricular activities aimed at forming well-rounded citizens. Then Master O'Hara has squared his supposed commercially unprompted action with the statement by Digicel's head of marketing, Peter Lloyd, that nothing the company did was "illegal", but "in celebration of Michael O'Hara who embodies our brand promise, which happens to be 'Be Extraordinary'".
Give Master O'Hara the benefit of the doubt about acting of his own volition after what may have been untextured and uncontextualised remarks by Rev Johnson about extraordinary people. Yet, what he did has brought him face to face with the issues of fair play, morality, copyright, trademark, intellectual property, the law and just maybe, truth. Rev Johnson has much to discuss with his fellow Calabar governors when they next discuss curriculum development. But these issues need not wait for such formal processes before they are talked about with students. Digicel should be a participant in this conversation.