Orville Higgins | Sports is no longer ‘extra-curricular’
On Heroes Day of this week, an unprecedented number of 15 people were given national honours for their contribution to sports. None of the 15 people were recognised for what they did this year, in particular.
In virtually every case, people were being rewarded for a body of work that goes back a decade or more. In other words, every single one of the recipients could have been honoured before this year. The fact that there was a record number of sports honourees this year was not lost on me. It is not an aberration.
The truth is that sports is becoming a bigger and bigger social force in Jamaica. Usain Bolt is our most popular Jamaican. That's a given. What may not be appreciated is that more sports bars are springing up over Jamaica than ever before, as bar owners cater to the need for their patrons to watch sports while enjoying themselves.
Bolt himself, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, and Courtney Walsh have all gone into the club/bar/restaurant business. They are not merely selling themselves. They are capitalising on a trend.
Over the last few years, there has been a rapid growth of sports programmes on Jamaican radio. On any given day, there are maybe half a dozen media houses with a sports show. At no other time in our history has the nation been fed such a diet of sport content.
This is not really because the owners of these media houses are necessarily into sports themselves; rather, it is those interests simply responding to market forces. People are consuming sports products like never before.
The Government of Jamaica was simply responding to the time. As sports continues to play a greater role in shaping our society, it is inevitable that the sports heroes will be given greater highlight in our formal social functions.
I am going to juxtapose all that with some things that made the media landscape over the last few days. The Holy Trinity Manning Cup coach, Devon Anderson, was recently bemoaning the fact that a lot of his players left the school and ended up at Jamaica College and Clarendon College. He clearly wasn't happy and stopped just short of blaming the two schools for taking away his players.
BUYING OF ATHLETES IS WRONG
Mr Anderson isn't the only one who frowns at this practice. In recent times, we have several well-known names, including Dr Lascelles 'Muggy' Graham and Dr Paul Wright, being critical of schools who 'buy' sports students. The term 'bloom where you are planted' was used in this context a few months ago - the idea being that if a child is placed in one of those 'bramble' high schools, it should never be that he moves to a name-brand school because of his sporting abilities.
Mark Wignall, one of my favourite writers, wrote a few days ago that some of the top schools in Jamaica are putting too great an emphasis on sports. He pointed out that while these schools are doing well in sports, academic performance isn't necessarily of the same standard.
The implication by Mr Wignall is that perhaps some of the money spent on sports by these schools is being channelled wrongly and could be used to promote education. One day, I hope to do a study that proves that homes play a greater role in academic achievements than schools in the Jamaican society.
We fool ourselves badly when we give schools greater prominence than homes in determining how well students will perform. Show me a child's parents, give me a chance to interact with them, tell me their economic status and their environment, and I can tell you how the kids will do at school, generally speaking. Blaming schools for below-par academic performance is, therefore, not totally fair.
But I digress, slightly. Sports is here to stay. More and more money is being made out of sports. Fame and fortune accompany the really good ones. Sports is no longer 'romping'. The child who is a sports superstar in high school is likely to make as much, or more, money down the road than the child who is a maths brain.
To continue to label sports as 'extra-curricular' is wrong. Less than five per cent of those of us who did Spanish, for example, will need those skills in later life. Why should Spanish be seen to be more important to a child in school than the sports in which he excels?
The sooner we accept that sports is now a viable career option, the less we have issues with sports students who allow themselves to be 'bought', or with schools that spend millions catering to sports development.
The Government honoured 15 sports people on Heroes Day. They are seeing the importance of sports. Others need to wake up.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.