Sports & Cancer: Never Give Up on Your Dreams

By Zaheer Clarke

Published July 3, 2017

Oftentimes, your love for sports can make the difficult moments in your life a little easier. For several individuals battling cancer, it’s this love and the love from their family that transform them into superheroes.

Hundreds Bid Farewell to Captain Horace Burrell
(Source: BOJTV)

Last week, the entire Jamaican football fraternity paid respects to a man, Captain Horace Burrell, whose dream united a people and made a nation proud. In 1994, Burrell marched into the presidency of the Jamaica Football Federation. His immediate dream at the time was for Jamaica to attain qualification for the 1998 World Cup in France by 1997. It was a daunting task to be achieved in three years, but it was a task that required an enchanting and stomping leader, and that he was.

The Captain, with Rene Simoes at his hip, transformed Jamaica’s outlook on its place in world football with steely performances in match after match ‘at the office’ and overseas. Surprisingly for many outside of Jamaica, Jamaica qualified for the 1998 World Cup and went on to finish 22nd out of the 32 teams that participated. Amazingly, Jamaica finished ahead of teams like the USA, Cameroon, South Africa, Scotland and others. Many will forget that in 1994, Jamaica was ranked as low as 75th in the world by FIFA. However, it was under Burrell’s tenure that Jamaica rose to its highest ranking of 27th in 1998.

Captain Burrell, the man with the dream that united a nation. Cancer could not tame his drive.
(Photo source: Guyana Chronicle)

The influence of the Captain on Jamaica’s football was like Santiago Bernabeu’s own influence on  Real Madrid Football Club. Real Madrid was once a fledgeling club in Spain, with the big clubs – Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao – dominating proceedings. Bernabeu had a dream of Real Madrid one day rivalling the big clubs in Spain and Europe. He first started off with building the largest stadium in all of Europe. He and Real Madrid were mocked bitterly, with many at the time declaring that it was “too much of a stadium for so little a club”.

Today, the club has gone on to win the most Champions League titles in Europe. And the stadium, which bears his name, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, is the perennial home of Real Madrid Football Club and the Spanish national football team.

The stadium owes its name to the legendary president of the club, Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste.
(Photo credit: Real Madrid F.C.)

In a similar manner, something significant, which will be mentioned each time Jamaica steps out to play, must be named in Captain Horace Burrell’s honour. Burrell took a small English-speaking Caribbean country to a World Cup tournament, which many had said was ‘too big a tournament for such a small country like Jamaica’ back in 1994.

Burrell’s contribution to local football and the national program warrants such recognition and not just a passing breath at his funeral service. His impact and legacy on Jamaica football must never be forgotten or diminished. When several corporations looked away from Jamaica’s football and its viability, Burrell, through his own business, Captain’s Bakery, pumped money and resources into the parish and local football programs to ensure their feasibility and continuity.

Captain Horace Burrell, last year, greeting my friend and fellow Jamaican Cleaveland at a department store in the United States, shortly after the Copa America Centenario tournament. The Captain was battling cancer at the time.
(Photo source: Cleaveland Smith)

Unfortunately, last month, Burrell died of cancer. I recall during the Copa America tournament last year when he was ill and I heard of the magnitude of his illness, I too was sombre as to the direction of Jamaica’s football program after Burrell. He gloriously returned for the final game of the tournament after receiving treatment, even though Jamaica were mathematically out of the tournament. It was a sign of defiance in my eyes. It was a sign of him wanting to be there for his boys – the Reggae Boyz – as always, despite his illness.

A good friend of mine from Trinidad, Marsha, who is a perennial supporter of West Indies cricket, was diagnosed with cancer last year. When healthy, Marsha can be found near the Trini Posse stands at the Queens Park Oval, cheering on West Indies through thick and often thin.

My friend Marsha in the hospital preparing for another round of chemotherapy. On the days West Indies wins, she feels no pain.
(Photo source: Facebook)

Unfortunately, in order to save her life and try to beat cancer, she had to do surgery, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was a difficult time for her and her family. However, win, lose or draw; sick, well, or maim; you couldn’t get her away from her West Indies’ team. When the West Indies won three global titles last year, with the under-19 boys winning the ODI World Cup and the senior men’s and women’s teams winning the T20 World Cup, no amount of carcinogenic pain could damper Marsha’s joy, even when lying on a hospital bed or on her own bed at home.

Novlene Williams-Mills, a four-time Olympic medallist and a six-time World Championship medallist, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She won the national 400m title in 2012 and 2013 and anchored Jamaica’s 4 x 400m team to gold at the 2015 World Championships. Just recently, she posed nude for ESPN’s Body magazine similar to other popular athletes with surnames Williams: Serena and Venus. However, Williams-Mills has the supreme distinction of being the first breast cancer survivor to pose for the ESPN Body Issue. Battling cancer is never easy and the scars, both mental and physical, after and during the cancer fight can be debilitating. Oftentimes, sports and your love for it can make the difficult moments easier.

Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills is the first breast cancer survivor featured in ESPN’s ‘Body Issue’
(Photo credit: Marcus Smith/Eric Lutzens/ESPN)

‘Some experiences, when you get to the other side, you get back to the person you want to be. You look in the mirror and you see all these scars. This is a body that you’re used to so much and then one day you have all these scars on your body,’ Williams-Mills remarked.

‘And, you know, that’s your story. I had to be like, “This is who I am now. These are the scars that make me up.”

“Cancer just wants to take control of everything. It didn’t ask permission.”

– Novlene Williams-Mills

‘Before cancer, I would think, “OK, to make me a lady, you have to have your breasts. You have to have this, you have to have that,’” Williams-Mills said. ‘Now I realise that what makes me a lady is this strong person that I look at every single day in the mirror.

‘It’s the courage; it’s the strength; it’s the fighter that I have in me that when I wake up every single day, I live to fight another day.’

My friend Victoria looks cancer in the face and smiles. She will not be defeated.
(Photo source: Facebook)

My friend Victoria, affectionately called Vickie found out last year she had cancer. Just last week she had surgery, this after doing extensive chemotherapy and radiotheraphy over the past year to become cancer-free.

Today, I want to salute all those who valiantly fight cancer and love sports. You guys are the true superstars and heroes. The famous basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, who too battled cancer, once said, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.”

Please watch Jimmy Valvano’s Inspiring Speech on Cancer – 1993 ESPY Awards
(click on video below)

Keep fighting my friends…

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

 He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on July 3, 2017.

Sports Journalists and Columnists, let us lift the standards

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Broadcast: February 18, 2017 on SportsNation Live

First published February 20, 2017, Republished April 3, 2017

The standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica are falling. It’s time to lift the standards.

President Donald Trump (l) and his counsellor Kellyanne Conway have waged an unprecedented war on facts and truths since moving into the White House.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

A friend of mine recently said, “The most dangerous thing on planet earth is an opinionist whose opinions are formed void of facts.” So, I quickly added, “While that statement may be true, what say you of Donald Trump?”

Opinionists are like sand grains on the beach. They are everywhere and worse when it comes to the world of sports. They can be found on the street side, at the bus stop, at the gym, and at the lunchroom at work. Unsurprisingly, another place you will find loads of them is at your local bar, especially when you are trying to have a relaxing evening with the distilled spirits. Sadly, these opinionists often discuss sports in the most nescient and puzzling ways, which both baffles and depresses you simultaneously. We all know the individuals I’m referring to. At times, we entertain them but deep down we abhor them and their unfiltered claptrap.

Bars are a popular location where you will find fact-less opinionists.
(Photo credit: VQR Online)

These fact-less sports opinionists, which are often our friends, spew nothing but unadulterated hogwash and several times, they do so with such conviction that those informed individuals – like yourself – question whether you are the ones ill-informed and unaware that you are uninformed. Do you remember what our grandmothers used to say? “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not …” Yeah, that’s them at times and not you.

The worst part is when those trusted with the responsibility to inform the public, yes us journalists, are the ones described in such a manner. When we are the ones least informed, I often wonder to myself, “where will the public turn to for information and insight?” I presume Facebook and fake news websites.

Fake news stories have been rampant on social media platforms like Facebook in 2016. Facebook and Google have vowed to tackle these fake news entities.

What is even worse is when sports journalists or columnists, like myself, propagate misinformation, which whips the public into a frenzy of ignorance. Yet, strikingly, when the ‘true’ truth is unfolded, they and their unadulterated opinions vanish into thin air. I have seen this in recent years with discussions surrounding various sporting issues, not excluding Jamaican athletes and doping in sports.

As sports journalists and columnists, we have a sacred responsibility. We must be the voice of the minority and not necessarily the populace. We ought to investigate and base our conclusions and opinions on facts and matters rooted in principle and not necessarily those dipped in patriotism and insularity.

Sports Journalist Tony Cozier was respected for his diligent research borne out in his engrossing cricket columns.
(Photo credit: Caribbean Beat)

Let me be the first to shed my snakeskin of self-righteousness. As the Good Book says, we have all sinned and fallen short. In the past, I may have misinformed the public, or maybe in the distant future – God forbid – I may misinform the public on a particular matter. Similarly, I may take some extreme position, uncharacteristically, devoid of facts or truths. However, John Public must never accept misinformation as the norm and must demand facts, truths and statistics from our sports journalists and columnists.

In recent times, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ have become almost a staple food in our society. Sadly, these fake facts and alternative news have been incorporated in the diet and salacious feats of the sports world. Several of my less and more learned colleagues and distant acquaintances, at times, report or purport such pristine poppycock that it makes me wonder. Unfortunately, this only sinks the already perceived sunken position of sports and opinion journalists in the local media sphere. Of a fact, our news counterparts are often held in higher esteem and the issues they discuss are often deemed more important. If we as sports journalists cannot inform the public of the basic tenets at hand in our speciality, then whom do we expect to do this job? The news reporters and weather reporters? We must do better. We need to lift the standards of sports and opinion journalism in Jamaica.

Morris Cargill (l) and Hugh Crosskill are two notable Jamaican journalists who were masters of opinion journalism and sports journalism respectively.
(Photo credit: Jamaica Gleaner)

John Public must demand of us sports journalists and columnists, fact-based opinions and insightful insights based on actual data, information and research. If they cannot, then anyone with an arbitrary opinion and pint-sized knowledge of sports can be a sports journalists or columnist. Or, is that already the case?

Recently, I read the work of some famous local columnists, some of who are luminaries, doctors in their respective fields and even lawyers. I also listened to several talk show hosts recently and heard various opinionists and sports journalists discuss several sporting disciplines and issues, including doping. Sadly, in my opinion, most of them were bereft of the ‘real’ facts to inform the public; hence, depriving the public of the opportunity to form informed opinions. From my observations, the writings and discussions of several sports journalists and opinionists were based solely, or mostly, on hypotheticals and conjecture. Astonishingly, facts and statistics were oftentimes treated like a bastard child, utterly detested. If our profession as sports journalists and columnists is to be taken seriously, my friends, then we have no choice but to raise the standards. If we do not, then we will certainly be the bastard children of several of our media houses.

Hubert Lawrence (l) and Lance Whittaker are two modern day journalists in Jamaica who are highly respected in the field of sports journalism.
(Photo source: Jamaica Gleaner & Barbados Today)

In closing, I must pay due respect to my colleagues who conduct their work with dignity and pride. They are the true descendants of Atlas, holding up the seemingly mystical sports and opinion journalistic world on their shoulders. As for me, and unlike the Apostle Paul, I am not even the least of the sports journalists or columnists in Jamaica. I consider myself simply a concerned observer: just call me a scientist.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

Zaheer was last seen in his dungeon pouring over statistics trying to determine why Donald Trump loves alternative facts and fake news. He found the answer in the 2016 US Presidential election polling numbers.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on April 3, 2017.

Zaheer Clarke & ZFLS cops recognition at 2016 PAJ Journalism Awards

By Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics

Published November 28, 2016

2016-paj-awards-zaheer-kim

Zaheer E. Clarke (left) and his elated wife, Kimsacha Williams-Clarke, at The National Journalism Awards function on November 26, 2016.

Last week Saturday, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) recognized Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics (ZFLS), and its editor-in-chief, Zaheer E. Clarke, at the National Journalism Awards function for outstanding work in journalism.

Though Clarke was a little disappointed to miss out on the major awards this year, he and Jamaica Gleaner’s Michael Abrahams were recognized with Certificates of Merit for their outstanding pieces in the Opinion Journalism section while ZFLS was the sole recipient of recognition – a Certificate of Merit – in the Best News, Sports or Current Affairs Blog category. Interestingly, Clarke and Abrahams were the only columnists recognized in the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism category, thus inadvertently sharing the unofficial 2016 Columnist of the Year title. Additionally, for the second year running ZFLS copped the Blog of the Year title. Continue reading

One of Jamaica’s greatest nights reduced to bigotry

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published August 23, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer

On one of the greatest nights in Jamaica’s athletic history, the good, sad, and utterly despicable elements of the human psyche were fully or secretly displayed on the social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

Jamaicans in Half-Way-Tree square celebrate the successes in the recent Rio Olympics. (Kenyon Hemans)

Jamaicans in Half-Way-Tree square celebrate the successes in the recent Rio Olympics.
(Kenyon Hemans/Jamaica Observer)

On the night of August 16, 2016, I went to my sister’s house to pick up my four-year-old daughter and saw history for Jamaica being made. Twenty-two-year-old Omar McLeod – and Jamaica – won Olympic gold for the first time in the 110m hurdles.

My daughter was beaming with pride as she raced around, with her index finger pointing to the sky, shouting, “Jamaica! Jamaica! Jamaica land we love!” She was like an athlete doing numerous victory laps around the 400m track at the Olympic stadium, albeit, her 400m track was situated around her aunt’s coffee table. Continue reading

Refugee Olympic athletes restore hope in humanity

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published August 6, 2016
Republished August 7, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer

10 refugees, from war-ravaged parts of the world, will compete together on one team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Their stories of triumph offer hope to 65 million worldwide.

Rose Lokonyen carries the Olympic flag and leads the Refugee Olympic Team during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Games in Rio. © UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

A proud Rose Lokonyen, carrying the flag, leads the other members of the Refugee Olympic Team at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics.
© UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

On Friday night, during the opening ceremony of the Olympics, ten athletes walked out with the Olympic anthem playing in the background, to the joy, tears, and dreams of 65 million refugees displaced across the world. Continue reading