So what if they miss Penn Relays?
When the news came that neither Jaheel Hyde nor Michael O'Hara would be able to compete as high-school athletes at the Penn Relays, it really didn't surprise me. I knew that there was the possibility, at least, that the Pennsylvania Inter-scholastic Athletics Association would have sought to bar them on the grounds that they have been recipients of benefits owing to their athletic prowess which were not available to all students on their schools' team. Simply put, these two are now considered professionals, and therefore, will be unable to compete with amateurs.
The thing has taken on monstrous proportions, and is the talking point in every sporting circle. Even the minister responsible for sports, Natalie Neita-Headley, is now getting involved. She is of the view that something must be now done to "protect our student athletes". Both ISSA and the affable minister may mean well, but my own position is that we must be careful that while we claim to be 'protecting' our athletes, we are not preventing them from maximising on their talents.
Clearly, it's not illegal for students to be brand ambassadors to corporate entities, so these two didn't break any law. We have to be careful how we stop anyone, young athletes or not, from doing whatever they feel is in their best interests as long as it is within the confines of the law.
These two are about the age when, according to the Jamaica Constitution, they are old enough to vote. If you are old enough to exercise your franchise, we need to accept that seeing them as 'children' - and not young adults - may be looking from the wrong perspective. We must accept that while there are disadvantages to signing the deals they did, there surely must be advantages, too.
The big disadvantage in what these two did is that they won't be able to accept 'free' scholarships to American universities, and that they won't be able to compete at the annual Penn Relays. Accepting scholarships to go to the States was once the dream of virtually every Jamaican high-school athlete. It was a natural progression. Dominate Champs and then take your pick from all the colleges and universities that are open to you.
Times have changed, though. Our local tertiary institutions are now offering scholarships to our local sportsmen and women, and therefore travelling to the States on these scholarships is no longer the only attractive and cheap option for these students.
If students (who are old enough to vote, I must emphasise) decide that they aren't interested in going to the States to study, why should they not take advantage of any financial opportunities that come their way? If you are old enough to decide who you want to govern you, and indeed old enough to decide on voluntary sex with all the implications, why are you not old enough to decide whether you want to take up financial offers at school?
Why do we need to protect such students from the choices they make? So what if they are no longer eligible for these US scholarships? As far as I know, a degree is a degree, and as long as they are able to attend universities elsewhere, including right here at home, why do we need to prevent or protect them?
So what if they miss the Penn Relays? As far as I'm concerned, these two don't need the Penn Relays. If anything, it's the other way round. The Penn Relays needs them. These two have already proven themselves on the global stage. One of them is the world youth champion! Performing at Penns is really neither here nor there.
ISSA might also come up with a restriction on such athletes competing at Champs, but again, do the likes of an O'Hara in his final year at school need Champs, or does Champs need him?
We don't know the exact nature of the arrangement between these two and the two communications giants. I have heard figures being bandied about, none of which I can confirm. What is obvious, though, is that the students got a deal that they were not prepared to say no to. Why are we suggesting that it's a bad thing? Why are we making it appear that missing out on an American scholarship is the end of the world for students who can go to university anywhere and still benefit financially in other ways?
Rather than protect these athletes, maybe we should just let them be.
- Orville Higgins is a sports reporter and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.