Paul Wright | The 'stay in your lane' culture
The actions of Jamaica's sporting heroes this past week deserve special mention. Not because of their usual expertise and sporting prowess, but because of their influence on the actions of their fellow citizens.
I am one of those people who believe that our sportsmen and sportswomen should consider themselves role models and must endeavour as much as possible to behave as such. Alia Atkinson won her second gold medal in the 100m breaststroke at the World Swimming Championships in China to go with her gold in the 50m event. She also had a bronze medal in the 100m individual medley. Alia should be a shoo-in for the RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year award, and notably, her behaviour in and out of the pool makes her an ideal role model, not only for young Jamaican swimmers, but also for black swimmers, who are not frequently seen in the finals of global swimming events. Khadija Shaw has been nominated for several awards at the CONCACAF and local level for her exploits as a centre forward for the Reggae Girlz, who have now qualified for the next FIFA Women's World Cup. Like Alia, she has shown qualities that make her an excellent role model who can and will inspire young female Jamaican (and Caribbean) footballers to be the best they can be at sports and in life.
However, when it comes to speaking out about aspects of their life in sports that are just plain wrong, these same role models are accused of being involved in politics, and they are told to 'stay in their lane'. Windies cricketers who complain about playing conditions or how they are treated find themselves ostracised by team hierarchy , and suddenly, they are out of team consideration. 'Just dribble' has become the rallying cry of fans and officials who find a problem with sport stars who mention things outside of their particular sport that they find disturbing.
Raheem Sterling, a young footballer who was born in the Maverley area in St Andrew in poor conditions, migrated to England, where his obvious skill was coached and developed, so that he is now one of the best- paid footballers in the much- revered English Premier League. His transfer to league champions Manchester City did not go down well with fans from his previous team, Liverpool Football Club. But his expertise on the field paid dividends. He eventually made the national team and kept on doing as well as, or even better than, most experts thought. But, as is now expected, media focus has not been on his football skill. It has been on his money and what he is doing with it. A tattoo of a gun on one of his legs set off a firestorm of protest, even though he explained that it was on his 'shooting' leg and it was a reminder of the death of his father to gun violence early in his life.
Last week, in a defeat of Manchester City by rivals Chelsea, Raheem was racially abused by four fans on the sideline when he went to take a corner. In an extraordinary response, Raheem smiled and continued playing by taking the corner, but at the end of the game, he made a formal complaint that resulted in sanctions against the easily identified miscreants. Most well-thinking fans would think that his insistence on reporting and following up on an obvious wrong would garner the support of other footballers of colour who have similar experiences. But alas and alack, very few of his fellow professionals have come out in support.
'Stay in your lane' is robbing society of a sustained action against a regular feature of football in England and Europe - racism that needs urgent and sustained action. The question, therefore, is, why are sporting 'role models' revered and praised for their demeanour on and off the field, but the moment they complain or try to bring attention to obvious societal wrongs or illegal/immoral behaviour, they find that they are on their own? Why? When will society and sport fans understand that sport stars have a responsibility because of their popularity to do whatever is in their power to effect change? What would be our response here in Jamaica if Alia and Khadija join the minister of sport, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, in highlighting the effect of the abuse of women, which is now reaching catastrophic proportions? Would they be told to stay in their lane, or would we see women of every rank in society unite to educate and assist women who are in abusive relationships to know that there is support, they are not alone, and help is but a call away. We must encourage our sport stars and heroes to speak up and come outside of their lane on some of the obvious ills that we face in society. Their support is needed and vital.