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Troublemakers or trailblazers: Do athletes deserve to voice an opinion on sport?

Ask a PTSC bus driver whether: more maintenance work is needed on buses, which routes are unprofitable, are the roads good, or are his working hours bad?

Nine out of ten times, he or she would have an opinion worth sharing. And we would be glad to hear it.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forwards Cornell Glen (top left) and Kenwyne Jones (top right) have a laugh during treatment at a pre-2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup training session. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forwards Cornell Glen (top left) and Kenwyne Jones (top right) have a laugh during treatment at a pre-2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup training session.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

But try asking an athlete about the preparation of a running track or cricket wicket, the quality of the team’s preparation or equipment, or the managerial style of the governing body. And then watch a young man or woman break into a cold sweat.

Hell, even Lionel Messi would be unwilling to say whether he prefers 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 and what changes Barcelona need to remain successful in the long run.

In an environment in which athletes are kept firmly in place and their opinions are rarely sought or considered, it is little surprise that players can be branded as troublemakers for requesting relatively mundane things in any other sphere such as medical supplies or physiotherapists on the training ground, respectful dialogue from their team manager or prompt payment for services rendered.

Should players dare to speak about anything beyond their own performances? Where should the lines be drawn if anywhere?

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago star Maylee Attin-Johnson (left) has a word with teenaged striker Anique Walker (centre) during a function. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago star Maylee Attin-Johnson (left) has a word with teenaged striker Anique Walker (centre) during a function.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Football Team captain Kenwyne Jones raised eyebrows when he threatened a team boycott for an upcoming Copa America Play Off against Haiti. And “Women Soca Warriors” star and former captain Maylee Attin-Johnson’s refusal to play under team manager Sharon O’Brien also sparked controversy.

But this is not a new phenomenon.

During the 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign, Everald “Gally” Cummings, a subsequent Hall of Fame star, argued that national players were being treated like orphans while administrators travelled and dined in luxury.

Cummings told his teammates: “If these administrators eating t-bone, we should be eating fillet mignon because we are the ones bringing in the money and we are the ones who need the energy!”

The TTFA, then led by president Phil Douglin and general secretary Jack Warner, promptly cut Cummings, Kenny Joseph, Gwenwyn Cust, Warren Archibald, Leroy De Leon, Wilfred Cave and trainer Trevor Smith from the squad. And, at the completion of the competition, banned the rest of the team too.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago stand-out player and coach Everald "Gally" Cummings (right) is recognised by former President Maxwell Richards at the TTFF's Centennial function.
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago stand-out player and coach Everald “Gally” Cummings (right) is recognised by former President Maxwell Richards at the TTFF’s Centennial function.

Smith responded by famously burning his football boots near Roxy Cinema and declaring that he was finished with the local game.

Interestingly, the friction between Cummings’ team came after the relative success of the 1974 campaign when Trinidad and Tobago came within a match of the Germany World Cup. Just as the “Strike Squad” and the TTFF butted heads after the 2006 World Cup and the Women Warriors became more outspoken during and after their exciting 2015 campaign.

Nothing seems to upset relations between players and administrators more than success on the sporting ground and an improved sense of self-worth by athletes.

Arguably, the mark for chutzpah was set in 2000 by Tobagonian goalkeeper and former National Under-14, Under-20 and Under-23 player, Richard Goddard, who criticised then FIFA vice-president Jack Warner in an open letter to the editor, which accused the Caribbean’s most powerful sporting administrator of turning Trinidad and Tobago’s football into a laughing stock.

Photo: Caribbean All Stars striker Stern John (right) appeals successfully for a penalty after a collision with Chelsea guest player and goalkeeper Richard Goddard in the 2015 Tobago Masters competition. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Caribbean All Stars striker Stern John (right) appeals successfully for a penalty after a collision with Chelsea guest player and goalkeeper Richard Goddard in the 2015 Tobago Masters competition.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Goddard’s closing words were: “For all I care you could be as vexed with me as (much as) you want. In fact, you don’t have to call me back to any national team, once you are in control of those puppets in the TTFF.

“All I want you to do is to leave our football alone and stop interfering with the players, the technical staff and their efforts to put the best team possible forward. You are jeopardising the lives of some of the most talented footballers in the world.

“STOP IT PLEASE!!!”

But these frictions are not restricted to football. And there are recent examples from the cricket fraternity by Denesh Ramdin, Kieron Pollard and coach Phil Simmons as well as from the 2012 London Olympics 4×100 track team of Richard Thompson, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Marc Burns and veteran table tennis star Dexter St Louis.

Should athletes have the same right to express their opinion as professionals in other fields? When does having a say become disruptive to the goals of the team and counter-productive?

And, most of all, when should athletes speak out; and when should they shut up?

Since, ironically, they probably cannot join in for fear of repercussions, let us hear your opinions on the topic:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams muses over Mexico's decisive goal in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal. (Copyright Getty Images/AFP/ Mike Zarrilli)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams muses over Mexico’s decisive goal in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal.
(Copyright Getty Images/AFP/ Mike Zarrilli)

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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72 comments

  1. Bakes

    Lol, Richard was a definite troublemaker. Big up D’ Coach. Athletes definitely have a right to voice their opinions, however when commenting on team dynamics it’s tricky, because teamwork by necessity requires cohesion, and if the opinion stated puts the athlete out of step with the rest of the team then that becomes problematic. If an athlete is asked to speak on behalf of his team mates then no one could fault him for that.

    I think the selected examples fail for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that neither Kenwyne nor Maylee were criticized for ‘voicing an opinion’ or speaking out, but rather for the stances espoused. In other words, for the substance of the ‘speech’ rather than the act itself. Kenwyne’s (and the rest of the team’s) stance seems premature, while Maylee’s just seems petulant.

  2. It is only under slavery that human rights are not observed. Are these athletes slaves?

  3. When managers are appointed to teams, there should be a system that allows athletes to evaluate their performance. This evaluation must be made public with the Association responsible being accountable for making public, action positive or negative to be taken. When people place themselves in the public eye, they must be prepared to deal with consequence management. This way people who are not capable will be weeded out quickly.
    I would suggest that the Olympic association in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport and the SPORTT develop a template for the job of team manager. There is a psychometric testing instrument available from Shirley Rudd- Ottley which can be used to ensure that the selected persons match the template.
    Let us become professional in our management of sport. If not we will go nowhere.

  4. I saw my name in the article so I decided to say my part. Athletes and officials must be on the same page before any adventure begins. We in trinidad drop officials on athletes not because of their abiltity but sometimes it is because is his time to make a trip. Let me tell you about an experience I had at the panam games in 2007. Bob roopnarine the secretary of the then table tennis association was sent to panam games to coach myself and rheann Chung. This individual is not a coach and knows nothing about the game but it was his turn to tour. When members of the Olympic committee showed up to watch me play, he ask me could I sit on the coaches chair so it would not look like I am doing nothing. As a professional player I handle my stories alone because in table tennis in trinidad coaches and roaches are very much the same. In my humble view, athletes must fight for skilled managers to do the job may it foreign or local. the world is a global entity because of social media. And perfection is necessary for results. Dexter St Louis keeping it real.

    • Lasana Liburd

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dexter. And I can imagine that the less scrutiny there is, the more nonsense is likely to occur. And there is less scrutiny for the sport of table tennis.
      Undoubtedly, you are a future Hall of Famer for your tremendous achievements in table tennis. Congrats again for your years of service.

  5. They should absolutely have a feedback mechanism feom athletes in shaping the administration on the sport…particularly in trinidad where administration appears to be so bad..however the feedback should not come ath the point when they arw completely fed up and it should not be as pu lic as it is. An ongoing feedback mechanism should be in place that allow the administrators to balance their feedback with the best decisions for the team as a whole within the context of whatever constraints the administrator faces…maybe there ahould be a player rep on the ex committee (assuming this isnt already in place).

  6. I think that’s the biggest obstacle we face in sports in the third world, our administrators have not come to terms with dealing with players in the modern game. We haven’t yet fully grasped the concept of ‘working with’ players, we’re still stuck in need to control them because they are our ’employees’. I think modern players understand the business of sport and sports itself more than we give them credit, we are just cursed to get administrators who haven’t grown with the players.

    • And we have administrators who are able to survive even if they sack an entire squad and send in a second or third string team.
      Or even put themselves at risk of liquidation over a cancelled tour rather than deal with the players.
      So when nobody cares sufficiently about results, what can top class athletes use as bargaining chips?

  7. No…shut yuh mouth and do your job!!!

  8. Players are workers just like u an me .all work an no play makes Jack a dull boi all play an no money makes players poor bois

  9. Who is Manager? David Muhammad?

  10. Athletes are not to make comments on issues be it stuff in the dressing room internal matters that happen within the club by right they are asked to keep a lid on personal stuff but this silence is then made to extend to their rights and social issues . I remember recently the big uproar that athletes in the nba and nfl were taking a stance on the way the police were treating with black youths and wearing t-shirts and having a say on social media about it and they were met with outrage by alot of people who thought they shouldn’t be involved sportsmen have no say in social issues especially heated racially toned ones . Some in the media, administrators and the powers that be don’t think we should speak just play our role as entertainers. the minute you speak you are trouble unless, as you alluded to lasana, you have the clout and fame as a ronaldo or messi. and dare I say ethnicity may play a part as to how they would be perceived even if they speak out on issues .
    Travis Mulraine David Nakhid Cornell Glen all deemed trouble because they spoke out and replaced because they had no clout on their respective nat’l teams

  11. In my humble opinion, I believe players should not come out and openly criticize a coach or openly make statements that undermines the coach’s credibility. But I firmly believed that if a player or players are not being provided the tools, proper working environment or are being compensated for their talent, work, effort, and production by the administration they should take the necessary steps to ensure that their voices should be heard. Yes, there is a process that should be taken before going public. I support players having a legal body (Union) to represent them and who seeks their best interest. Just my opinion. Bless!!

  12. Great story ! As one who has lived the life of an athlete this story hits home on many levels. The problem is that athletes are deemed dispensable you can make a stand against poor working conditions, poor management, no pay etc and whether is one or many you can just be blacklisted put aside and others will either replace you or be put in a position to replace you. and it works almost always so it happens all the time. just get rid of the trouble guys who want betterment and replace them with less aggressive sheep who will just work under whatever provisions they are under that is why it is so difficult for us to speak out on issues that affect us and make a stand. there is that sword over your head that dangles letting you know you can and will be replaced if necessary. the ideology of the dumb jock is real and manifest itself always. athletes should put up and shut up be thankful for getting this platform to showcase ourselves and just work hard our management will see fit what rewards if any we should receive .. We are brainwashed with the image of athletes who do the same thing we doing under more stress and are doing so irregardless, less resources no problem they work on and those who succeed they become the benchmark and heralded as the right attitude to adapt too. I would finally say that the opinions and views just shared are not those of myself. Athletes who ask for more are mischievous and should be banned

  13. Of course they have that right. Without the athletes we have no sport. They should ultimately have the final say. We ask them to work hard to reach professional status then expect them to be silent. In every other profession the world over the professionals opinion is like law why should it be different for sport. As I see it right now the people that have too much say are all about money and don’t have the sport itself at heart. Fifa ICC IAAF NFL you name it. Look at the decisions some of the ppl make and judge for yourself.

    • Part of the problem for athletes could be that they are most powerful when they are too young to fully grasp it. So you are talking about athletes between the ages of 16 to 28 generally negotiating with administrators and agents who might have been in this business longer than they are alive.
      I think it is important for us to appreciate too that they will make mistakes because these are young men and women.

    • I think a balance must be found though. Money must be made so they can make a living but not at the cost of the sport itself. Too many time we’ve seen organisations ignore the cries of the athletes to the detriment of the sport. Wicb is the perfect example. I don’t know what they’re smoking but anyone can see the decisions made are ridiculous.

    • Yes. Both parties depend on the other to do their jobs well and have to help. But, at the end of the day, sport can continue without administrators at some level. But it cannot without athletes.

    • From my point of view also I think that the team managers can play a critical part in being the voice of the athletes. There must be a forum where players can / are allowed to express how and what they feel , with out being threaten with losing their position on the team or bring seen as trouble makers . It must not reach the point that it has reach now where they are talking out because they are frustrated . Open and effective communication goes a long way

  14. Lasana, I do not agree that the manager is generally part of the problem. The problem is the selection of the manager. I had a wonderful experience as Manager of the Senior Men’s National football team. It is really a question of developing relationships with the players and taking the time to understand each of them. When you can achieve this and get the players to trust you as having their best interest at heart they will confide in you when there are issues. Being able to represent their views to the administrators and ensuring that there needs are addressed enhances the confidence and avoids player outbursts to the media.
    If players have no confidence in the Manager and the manager does not look after them at all times, you will have players voicing their concerns to the media and upsetting the administrators who will generally respond in the most inappropriate manner.
    A manager must command, not demand respect from both players and administrators to be successful. The manager must understand that their role is to ensure that players are comfortable with their role as players and that their needs are addressed in a pro active not reactive manner. Communication is the key. Players need to be managed differently as they all have their own characteristics. Players also need to understand that there are consequences to dysfunctional behavior. Professionals are required to deal with professional players. Not egoistic posers.

    • Agree Lasana. I have a lot of time for both these guys. But William is Operations Manager not team manager as he should be.

    • I actually revisited that and said managers are SOMETIMES part of the problem. And I was thinking specifically about that Under-23 team and some of the stuff they went through.
      I agree with you on that and I’ve consistently heard good things about your roles as manager Bruce.
      William Wallace and Gouviea would be two other managers who seem to have a lot of respect within their squads.

    • Really believe in mr bruce Aanansen views…as a player always had a say and always wanted a manager that understand the problems of players which are all different …having a manger who has the skill and understanding to work between players and management is key for any successful team or organization. ….I’ve always seen it as one of the most important roles…and that person always had my admiration. ..and understanding. players have their roles and always will have input but there are protocols and there must be discipline to that…getting the right manager is so vital for players and organization…if u need smooth sailing get in a good manager that can help the two navigate. ..dont understand all the confrontation. ..all players want are good working conditions and to be recognized and compensated for the jobs they do…if there are players with other agendas then you do what u have to period…no one is bigger than the game…always remember. ..we all will go and leave the game…but setting up something good for other generations are the utmost important for all who play the game..

    • Colin Borde is the cricket circles is a good example of this also

    • A good example of what exactly Colin Benjamin?

    • Lasana Liburd The team manager style that Mr Aanensen described – many TT & caribbean cricketers speak highly of his ability to command respect etc etc etc

    • Well, I really can’t comment too much on Colin’s competencies. I don’t know him well enough.
      I know he was quite close to Anil Roberts and that isn’t a complimentary thing for me to say. But that doesn’t mean he might not be a good manager.
      He is certainly a charming fellah.

    • Top man for business. ..wish I had him as a manager…always have a good relationship with players from what I have heard…very tough person but …relaxing person interactions with colin borde has been great so one can see the quality of person. …

    • Ha well I think I’ve heard in past he close to Roberts – but never was sure how close Lasana Liburd

    • Close or not…he is quality straight up person…

  15. I dont agree with young athletes esp sportspersons who play in a team interacting much with the media. Things can get messy…that’s what the Manager’s there for.

  16. ..Money and markets always affect politics – and players speaking up is politics. I personally have no problem with that. I was an outspoken player. But there is always a protocol to be followed..

  17. Great article!! Time for the players association in TT but there must be policy about players speaking out especially to the media!! More than that tho i think it is time all stakeholders sit down and see where we as a nation are in terms of sport so we can plot the way froward collectively our market and pool is to small for the constant fighting!!

  18. Your son is a promising young athlete Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde? Would you be nervous if he started giving opinions on all sorts of stuff in the media?

    • But young players shouldn’t be talking to the media Lasana…with you guys that is a special skill

    • I remember the TTCB, under Deryck Murray and Forbes Persaud, gave media training to young cricketers.
      I went in and spoke with them on the questions to avoid, what to prepare for, why they should remove their shades… Stuff like that.

    • A mic will be stuck in his face eventually. It is inevitable.

    • It is inevitable but they need experience first

    • At his age ( 13 ) hopefully the questions would be innocuous which he could more than handle. But later on I could see him being put on a spot. Training and coaching would definitely be needed on how to be politically correct and avoid situations that could lead to stepping on the wrong corn. But the article is on point. Athletes are at a disavantage in being free to voice their professional opinion without fear or favour. It’s a disturbing reality though.

    • I would recommend he be honest about what he is capable to comment on and what he isn’t. If he has done his homework on track surface or vitamins or whatever, then feel free to offer an opinion.
      But never make loose unresearched opinions on stuff.
      I am sure he will be fine because he looks like a bright kid with good support. He will just need to recognise that it is a learning curve.

  19. Good contribution Abdallah Phillips. This is where it gets tricky. The idea that athletes are replaceable can only survive in an environment where there is no accountability for results.
    In other words, no heads will necessarily roll at most Pro League clubs if they finish bottom in the standings. Or if a national team underperforms.
    So the administrators can drop players and bring in lesser replacements cause success or failure of the team isn’t so crucial to their jobs.
    They can’t do that at Real Madrid or Barcelona. Because when the team fails, people higher up get sacked. So they damn well have to find a way to make with work with Ronaldo and Messi and Xavi and so on.
    Don’t you think that is part of it here Keith?

  20. Everyone deserves to have their views heard…is not what you say but how and the attitude used when putting across your views.

    • One of the issues is these are young men and women and might simply struggle to understand how best to do so at times.
      For instance, the Under-23 men’s team threatened to strike during the Pan Am Games in July. These are players between 19 and 22 generally. So they won’t always get it right in terms of delivery and sometimes we may have to lack past the rough edges.

      • Bakes

        “One of the issues is these are young men and women and might simply struggle to understand how best to do so at times.”

        That’s the price of an education… if they say something the wrong way then they’ll just have to learn to live with the consequences, and figure out how to say it better next time. No excuse, and no sympathy.

    • Their manager should be there as guidance and common sense. They should be comfortable enough with him/her in order to have their views aired in a rational manner

    • Im thinking in terms of big clubs here…Arsenal etc…any grievances should be taken with the Manager…I know ppl like Fergie didnt like opposition…but there are ways and a few players found it…even Dwight at one point was the darling of ManU

    • The manager is an employee of the TTFA. Even moreso than the coach. The coach is, in theory, selected by the TTFA technical department while the manager is a direct appointment from the administration.
      So, it will always be difficult for the manager to offer support to the players in those instances. Sometimes, the manager is part of the problem.

  21. Money and contracts have nothing to do with it. 1) Every athlete has the right to opinion and to express it. 2) There is a protocol to be observed in the expression of that opinion. 3) Once that democratic right and opinion attempts to become player power the problems begin. 4) Most athletes don’t give a damn and just want to get on with it..

    • Fair enough….but I would say that money and contracts have everything to do with it, as that is generally the genesis of the athletes’ grievances. As long as athletes are bought and sold their democratic right to a variety of things are overlooked and they are at the mercy of the owner. I would also agree that most will just get on with it

    • ..Yes, but then you are excluding the 99.9 percent of athletes who play and perform for free and STILL deserve to have a proper say – within the established protocol. At the end of the day, amateur or pro, athletes need to concentrate on performing, not running the show..

    • Bakes

      Excellent comment Keith.

  22. Very interesting point Carlon. Now we are looking at athletes as pampered slaves sorta.
    And you cannot free a slave from chains that he or she adores.
    So in that case, the situation might remain as is with just the occasional “loudmouths” speaking up while everyone else stays quiet for their salaries or free trips.

  23. Great article….the issue is unfortunately systemic. Athletes are no longer considered as ‘people’ but rather as commodities that can be bought, sold and traded….literally. There is simultaneous pride in an athlete (a footballer in reference to the article) being bought by a club for X millions and sorrow when same athlete is treated with as much respect as the photocopier just purchased from the local supply store. It’s unfortunate and could be viewed as callous, but as long as athletes are literally bought and sold, their associated rights to have their opinions heard is at the mercy of their owners. Would you allow the car you just bought to tell you how to drive?

  24. Of course they need a voice, they are the product. But it’s probably more productive when done in the context of a player’s association. I don’t see why people don’t view sport just as they would any other profession. People pay to see the athletes, not the administrators.