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Dreams on hold for student athletes

by Shaun Fuentes As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty all across College Sports in North America and other parts of the world heading into next season which is impacting hundreds of thousands of student athletes including several from Trinidad and Tobago. Over decades, footballers  as well as track and field athletes have benefitted from scholarships to attend institutions in the US. 

Currently, the NCAA Division 1 Council has suspended in-person recruiting through January 1 2021. Both college coaches and potential recruits are adjusting to this unprecedented situation, and more changes will still emerge. And with no Secondary Schools Football League taking place here in 2020 it means hundreds of young footballers are not only missing out on an opportunity to display their skill but are potentially seeing their chances of  attending overseas College decrease by the day.

Over in Africa the same challenges are being faced. In June Winnie Kosgei, a Kenyan marathon runner, helped to pioneer a new form of virtual race that allows athletes to compete against each other without having to be physically in the same area. This is one example of how professional athletes have adapted their careers to the new world of COVID-19. But inn Kenya and across East Africa, quite a few universities and colleges which offer sports scholarships to needy students with unique sport abilities have been struggling. The situation means that poorer students – with potential and talent – are effectively being marginalised in the current situation.

Sport has had to take a back seat, largely due to the fact that it involves contact among players, and the participation of large numbers of spectators and fans. For prospective students looking to sports scholarships to earn an education, the doors now seem firmly closed until further notice.

“Not everyone can be blessed enough to come from an abled background,” said Michael Oluoch, “and the funny thing about life is that most of the best talents and abilities usually come from people from poor backgrounds … God never forgot them, and nor should we,” said Oluoch, a basketball coach and scout in Kenya.

As a scout, Oluoch goes out to schools and neighbourhoods to look for talent or invites players to showcase their abilities. Under present conditions, this process is no longer possible. “There are some students I had identified from two high schools and was hoping to bring them in for our scholarship programme, but now I have no choice but to wait till things go back to normal,” he said.

There are students  including some from T&T such as footballer Kareem Riley who are already on sports scholarships. Some have chosen to defer their studies since schools were finding it a challenge to cater for them with no sports activities taking place. Some schools however are trying to find ways to help them out through various avenues such as well-wishers and a kitty for the needy.

Victor Boiyo, dean of students at The African Nazarene University in Kenya said it is difficult for them to take in and cater for new scholarship students even as online learning goes on. “No strategy had been put in place to handle the situation that we are in today, and as an institution, we are working to find ways of helping out those that we can [those already on scholarships].”

“They are a unique group of students” that the government should think about as they work on ways of getting learning back on track," he said.

Everything from roster selection and scholarship limits to operating budgets — has had to be re-thought and restructured a t every college and university as a result of the pandemic. The same applies to local secondary schools. Athletes, particularly footballers are best advised to ensure their  updated highlights reel is posted on every social media platform possible. A great deal of recruiting, even in the best of times, is now largely digital. Coaches and players will have to stay in touch with recruiters through email, text messaging and routine conference call. While the games have been on a break, it is certainly no time to rest as athletes must now continue to look after their physical shapes, keep on honing their skills and train in new and innovative ways. Dreams are on hold but they haven't been dashed.

The Power of Common Purpose

by Shaun Fuentes “Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020,” Marcus Rashford tweeted upon the news that his campaign had borne fruit. A campaign that prompted a Government U-turn that will now allow parents to receive vouchers for 1.3 million kids in England over the summer and with more to come. This was just another exceptional example of the influence, power and respect that high-profile sportspeople in general whether it be football, cricket or athletic stars can have on impacting massive change in our world by making proper use of their platforms to reach the masses. How much are we seeing this in our region or our country? If it takes you more than thirty seconds to respond positively then it’s not happening enough or even at all. The UK Guardian stated: “In forcing the prime minister into a hasty spin of the heels, Rashford has delivered a timely reminder that football’s influence and cultural currency stretch well beyond its own borders. And by reaching beyond those borders in an urgent and worthwhile cause, he has demonstrated the power of common resolve and common purpose, at a time when – as he himself put it – society “appears to be more divided than ever”. Is it that our sporting and cultural stalwarts and heroes aren’t being seen in the kind of light by our leaders to have the sort of impact similar to Rashford’s? “The genius of Rashford’s campaign was its simplicity. It was textbook in its strategy, tactics and execution. It starts with a clear positioning based on his personal experience: no one can question his motive or accuse him of jumping on a bandwagon.” Like Rashford, former Grenadian international Jason Roberts, now director of development at CONCACAF, also received an MBE for his charitable work in Grenada. Roberts was awarded the honour by the Queen after he set up a charitable foundation to introduce children in Grenada, the homeland of his father, and the UK to education through sport and help build confidence.  He took the decision to play for Grenada, rather than be selected for England, in a bid to help Grenada's youth. Jason Roberts (Image courtesy The Times) He said: “For me, playing for Grenada was more than football - it was the opportunity to go there and tackle issues like getting kids into education and mainstream society.” Our society is yearning for more like these men who can emerge as one of the unlikely, unifying heroes of the pandemic. As Rashford himself said: "It's becoming more normal that people speak out on topics that they believe in and I think it's just positive for the future."  Perhaps we have persons in our part of the world who maybe need to speak up some more for it to really reach those who are in decision making positions. Over time the off-field contributions of sporting athletes, such as by contributing to charities or virtuous social causes, are rarely the subject of major media discussion. But there is most times much more public interest should an athlete present a dissenting perspective in respect of a sociopolitical issue via sport. Negative refrains typically include: athletes should “stick to sport”; that they are “using sport” to advance a political agenda; and (like other celebrities) they are not credible advocates because they live in an elitist “bubble”.  But times seem to be changing. Certainly How, why and when influential athletes take a stand on sociopolitical issues is a question of timing, context, purpose and strategy. There can of course be  substantial public backlash as was the case when NLF star Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem because of what he sees as systemic racism in American society When NFL ratings fell this season, some suggested that Kaepernick’s politicising of the game had prompted disaffection. 

Of course we must also respect individual's honesty when not wanting to get involved because of a lack of knowledge on an issue. Pressuring an ‘influencer’ may not be an option as it would be better  for them to comment or expose an issue  on their terms and not the public's own. Meantime, I am currently researching instances where our local sporting heroes were seriously considered by our leaders when it came to solid decisions that impacted our citizens. This does not include their individual charitable work. Send me an email with anything you've come up with at shaunfuentes@yahoo.com.

From One phase to the next

by Shaun Fuentes Gary Griffith (left) and Jesse Williams with Coleraine FC player James McLaughlin

The aim at every stage in the athletic career of an individual should be to focus on the development of the whole person than just the athletic person. This certainly becomes ever more important for the future of these folks, not just sportspeople, where they enter a different stage of their career or a different category. The only way to ensure that is by commitment to the holistic development of our athletes right from the outset and throughout their athletic careers.

I had a conversation with former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Carlos Edwards a couple days ago on a similar topic. This is a man who played for Trinidad and Tobago at the FIFA World Cup in 2006 but one of very few from this country to play in the English Premiership.

Edwards is now a player with Bury Town FC in England but also involved in the management side. He welcomed two aspiring professional players from this country at Bury last week in Gary Griffith III and Jesse Williams. Both players have  registered with Coleraine FC in  the Northern Ireland Premier League and are currently trying to get their footing on solid ground on the European stage. Neither have ever represented the country at the senior level and had been in largely unfamiliar territory over the past month. So you could imagine what it might have been like for both of them being able to train alongside the former T&T World Cup veteran during their stint at Bury.

“It’s been a once in a lifetime experience for us so far. The lads at Coleraine have been exceptional and we already feel like part of the family,” said Griffith III.

“We have put our best foot forward and I believe that trusting in God and the whole process. This is also a way of showing people that persistence, hard work and belief pays off. At the end of the day we are all striving to improve our craft and be able to then represent our country in the best way possible,” he said

“With this journey it's been quite difficult at times being retested (for Covid)  on several occasions which sometimes threw us off. But it’s football we came to play and this is what we signed up for so we’ve come out here and given it our best,” Williams pointed out.

“It’s been easier to acclimatize being in the presence of each other and of course seeing a familiar face. We all share the same goals and coming into a new family at Coleraine FC has made the process a little easier. But we are in a new environment and we are learning everyday,’ Williams stated. “But the main thing is putting your faith in God and knowing that everyday day you wake up means you have a chance of succeeding.” Carlos Edwards, the former Trinidad and Tobago international

Former stars such as Edwards demonstrating that their inputs can help others who are in search of opportunities to excel or at least continue their development is definitely something we as a nation should feel good about as it relates to our future generations

Edwards understands that success doesn’t come overnight. It takes time and commitment to build the skills necessary to perform on the big stage and for athletes like him, it is never just a job. It is a challenge and an opportunity to get better every day. This is what he’s tried to pass on to the young duo over the couple days he shared with them

“So far the reports have been good on both of them. Obviously they are young and there is lot for them to take on board out here. They both gave a decent account of themselves when they lined up for Ipswich Town in a game against Bury and I’m actually quite surprised to see how well they have adapted to the conditions here,” said Edwards.

“But the main thing for me was being able to be involved in a warm-up with them before one of our games and even though we didn’t play the game together I was able to interact with them and touch on a few things. At this stage of my life and career these are important moments. It allows me to work closer with young persons like Gary and Jesse and try to put them on the right path. When you are out here in this environment every  fifteen minutes or few sessions together goes a long way.

“What I tried to make clear to them is that they both have to be their own selves. Don’t try to be like each other or like another player in the team. They must express themselves and their own style in training and in the actual game. It’s what persons like myself and Stern (John) and even Dwight (Yorke) did when we were over here from the early days. " All three of us ended up together at Sunderland and it was the same thing,” Edwards added. He spoke of a current arrangement he and other past players are currently engaged in to offer more opportunitues for young T&T players.

There are no guarantees in this arena. Inspite of everything happening at the moment it's may not be all doom and gloom in our football circles. From one phase to the next we can hopefully keep pushing!

Athletes are More than just That

by Shaun Fuentes I've always gotten the impression that athletes are underrated, at least in our society within the Caribbean. So okay, we love to promote the fanfare that comes with the success these athletes achieve and we fancy the opportunity toidentify with them when they are on top of their game. But take that away, from the very regular athlete who is yet to stake his claim to the one who has achieved fame, we tend to see them as just that -  An athlete who knows only sport. I strongly believe and this comes from years of close interaction with athletes at various levels, that they  recognize the importance of teamwork and trust, they know how to deal with adversity and conflict, and they know how to think strategically and shift course when necessary. And these are all things that some people in high office struggle with. Some academic research has delved into the ways athletes learn to be leaders with more research on the horizon aimed at this topic. In one report, “Why female athletes make winning entrepreneurs,”  espnW interviewed women entrepreneurs around the world who had played sports, and they said they developed leadership, confidence, single-mindedness, passion and resilience as athletes. Regarding leadership, the report noted: “The athlete entrepreneurs explain that playing sport has given them a strong grounding in what it means to be on a team — on both practical and emotional levels. And they are using that sports mindset to establish the high-performing teams required to grow their companies.” A study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies in 2014 looked at men who had participated in varsity-level high school sports decades earlier. The study found they “appeared to demonstrate higher levels of leadership and had higher-status careers.”  A little example is former Trinidad and Tobago Under 17 football captain Brendon Creed who at age 17  began his civil engineering degree at Temple University while on a football scholarship. “Throughout my 4 years, I had many experiences that prepared me to navigate life after school,” Creed said. He began tutoring at Elevat-ED Tutoring Services and then ended up teaching Math to the nation’s youth  live on CNC3 during the pandemic. “My lesson in versatility continues to this day,” added Creed who still plays football. Student-athletes gain all these skills, but the problem is that many of them are not taught how to use them outside of sports. This is where proper leadership comes in where the right guidance is provided. Athletes gain emotional toughness, balance, integrity and the ability to have difficult conversations, said Matthew Davidson, Ph.D., president of the Institute for Excellent and Ethics (IEE) which assesses and builds leadership development and organizational culture. But athletes don’t automatically pick up these lessons, he said. “There’s no reason to believe that it just naturally happens. Sure, these are partly ‘caught,’ but they also must be intentionally taught.” As a leader and a follower, it is important to know how to adapt to change. And this is more obvious during the current Pandemic times.  Change is inevitable in any industry, especially in sports, and many people fear the idea of change because it is a disruption to the normal routine and there is a lack of certainty in leadership. Transformational leadership is one of the most desired leadership styles in the sport industry. It's my choice based on experiences I have been fortunate enough to have. Leaders that embrace this approach put the followers’ emotions, motives, and needs before their own.  In sports, change is inevitable. It requires adaptation and survival in the ever-changing sport industry. Every year, there are coaching, administrative, personnel, and rule changes within sport organizations. Another way a transformational leader in sports can create an environment that is accepting of change is by creating depth within the organization. There is relationship depth which deals with creating more meaningful connections. Diversity depth is the next dimension, and it includes having a variety of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and education within the organization such as past and present athletes and sport entrepreneurs .The last dimension is servanthood depth.  This dimension of depth refers to the commitment of serving others. These are leaders and followers who put others first are selfless with a desire to help to whole team or organization succeed. Here's something I will leave to ponder upon. Do you think we will see a former athlete or respected sporting personality become the Prime Minister of our country in our lifetime? "Think of yourself as an athlete. I guarantee you it will change the way you walk, the way you work, and the decisions you make about leadership, teamwork, and success." -  Mariah Burton Nelson, award-winning author and former Pro Basketball player. "I strongly believe and this comes from years of close interaction with athletes at various levels, that they  recognize the importance of teamwork and trust, they know how to deal with adversity and conflict, and they know how to think strategically and shift course when necessary. And these are all things that some people in high office struggle with."

The Relationship between the Team and the Administration

by Shaun Fuentes n every sport organization or sports team, just as in business, there are situations where there is under or over performance and most times it tends to come down to available resources. Most times for those looking on from the outside the perception is it depends on the quality of the coaching staff, the player personnel, leadership and finance. Sounds pretty straight forward right? It's not necessarily that simple. So for as long as we can remember, particularly in our region we’ve heard about the team versus the administration, the players versus the ‘admin’ battles. We can recount numerous times where teams or athletes have found themselves in undesirable scenarios where there is misunderstanding either due to fall outs where one or the other has failed to perform their duties or simply come across as uncaring. The thing about sport is that the product is the team, the players, the athletes. They determine the success of the organization. You could have the best rated chairman, CEO, President, marketing manager or even finance manager, if the team or the athlete flops, most times nothing else matters. It may sound unfair when an organization and the dynamics of it has to be judged on the on-field results, the majority of times anyways. Cohesion is a key ingredient for any successful team or organization. It has been proven that groups with high cohesion possess traits that help them unite in the pursuit of a common ambition — they communicate better, have higher levels of participation, perform more efficiently, and have more trust in their organization than less cohesive groups do. So whether it is a victory on the field or delivering a proposal that secures a lucrative sponsorship, a cohesive team will have an advantage. Having persons inside the office and boardroom that really care about what the athletes or the players are doing, their conditions and their mental state will always be better than having those around with the wrong energy and mindset. The approach and attitudes of administrators and office staff have a very real effect on athletes and players. A team can be struggling to get paid on time or may be going through a rough patch but once they have in the back of their minds that the guys in the office and the boardroom have their backs and they simply care, it makes a world of difference. Trust me, I’ve been there in situations to witness it first hand. The relationship between sporting director/ leaders/ admin staff  and team or athletes  has to be built on trust, respect and a clear vision of the organization. Maybe your program may be bringing results and is highly regarded or maybe you have a hard time avoiding relegation. Whatever the situation, it is vital that both sides create a shared vision and outline concrete steps how to follow it. This means having sufficient and fair input from the board, the coaching staff, the backroom staff, the accounts department, the marketing team, the laundry staff, medical staff and even the front desk receptionist and groundsman and of course the players. There was an analysis of the HRM-Performance relationship for five Dutch professional football organizations done both qualitatively and quantitatively, on the basis of the well-known HRM-Performance model of Paauwe and Richardson (1997) that is adapted to fit the professional football industry. Those investigated were Ajax, AZ, FC Twente, Feyenoord and PSV. The quantitative part of the research entailed collecting and analyzing seven years of statistical data about the HRM outcomes and sports outcomes of the individual organisations . The results of the research show that all of the investigated organizations at some point in time created a long term view for the club. More importantly,  research showed that the HRM outcomes (i.e. employee and administrator skills, attitudes  and behaviors) significantly influenced the sports outcomes on the field of play. People on a team collaborate on sets of related tasks that are required to achieve an objective. Each member is responsible for contributing to the team, but the group as a whole is responsible for the team’s success. And this group includes everyone. Teamwork involves shared responsibility and collaboration toward the common outcome whether it be securing medals at the Olympics, winning the Gold Cup or capturing the CPL. Every organization has its own style depending on the leadership. Teamwork processes can be divided into three categories: the transition process, action processes, and interpersonal processes. And five characteristics of effective teamwork are shared values, mutual trust, inspiring vision, skills, and rewards. Conflict management and affect management are also key areas. Okay so you may not fancy the head coach or the captain. But don't let that affect your contribution towards the effort. Focus on your role. Establishing conditions to avoid disagreement and resolving conflict when it occurs; and motivation and confidence building where  generating the willingness and ability of individuals to work together to achieve the mission is vital. So while a  team or organization's success may be  largely measured by its season record; successful leaders and administrators  understand that forming strong relationships between athletes/team and the admin is just as important as achieving wins. Of course there will be lines that can't be overstepped. But remember we should really be part of one team. That's how it should be anyways. Understanding how to achieve this could be the real game changer in our region. "The relationship between sporting director/ leaders/ admin staff  and team or athletes  has to be built on trust, respect and a clear vision of the organization."

July 27th 1990 stands out for me after the '89 experience

by Clayton Morris, former Trinidad and Tobago Football Captain Pushing Limits Introduction It will billed as the big return of international football to local shores in the aftermath of the painstaking defeat to the United States in the 1990 World Cup qualifier less than 9 months earlier, which broke the hearts of local fans. “Shell Cup 90 fever hits Trinidad” a headline read in the Jamaica Gleaner. "They think it's no big thing. Most Trinidadians feel their footballers should be able to take care of all the other teams. After November 19 when the team lost to the USA in the World Cup play-off game, Trinidadians felt the Caribbean Championship is not as strong a tournament for the national team,” said then journalist, the late Dave Lamy. There was no Russell Latapy, Dwight Yorke or Leonson Lewis in the side as the trio had taken up contracts on Portugal and England. Also missing from the squad was Marvin Faustin “Competition banners, placed all along the route from Piarco Airport to downtown Port of Spain, tell a story of a country, in the mood for, and well prepared to take on Caribbean football's number one tournament. Little boys in the streets brighten the surroundings with national team jerseys of Trinidad and Tobago.” “In almost every building one enters, there is talk of the Shell Cup finals — whether it is the apparent "setback" to the National team due to the absence of their four top players — forwards Leonson Lewis and Dwight Yorke, midfielder Russell Latapy and defender Marvin Faustin, or the big question of whether or not upsets will be the order of the day, as happened in the 1990 World Cup,” the newspaper stated. The 1991 Shell Cup Squad in Jamaica. T&T finished runners up to the host nation that year T&T easily dispatched Grenada 5-0 in the opener on Sunday July 22nd with a double from Peter Alfred and Larry Joseph and one from Paul Elliot Allen. T&T coach Edgar Vidale described the victory as "great and one the whole country will be proud of." "We played to according to the team plan. The boys stuck to the strategy we thought would be good enough to beat Grenada. I had seen them against Suriname and was able to devise a plan to counter their style. The result makes me proud of the boys. They kept their composure in the first half and concentrated well throughout the session." Team captain Clayton Morris described the victory as "the start of another journey." "We tried last year to reach the World Cup finals but just didn't do it," he said.

The following was written by Morris for Pushinglimits.net The biggest Day after November 19th by Clayton Morris Two dates and events that will forever be in my memory, November 19th 1989 and July 27th 1990. They both have significant meaning to me as a citizen and also as leader of the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Football Team on both occasions. This day July 27th is also the birthday of my eldest brother Harold “Mau” Morris who unfortunately passed away on the 26th November 2016. (Happy Birthday big brother continue to rest in peace). Resuming national duties after the disappointing result on November 19th 1989 was kind of mix feelings and emotions for me in that here we were preparing for the defence of the Shell Caribbean Cup under the supervision of Edgar Vidale and not Everald Gally Cummings with whom we should have been with at 1990 World Cup finals in Italy around the same period. While the Shell Cup was now the stage for our international appearances, it certainly was no comparison to Italia 1990. This Shell Cup however was the ideal opportunity to get new and younger players as my memory serves me Shaka Hislop one of the reserve Goalkeepers, Angus Eve, Dexter Cyrus and Alvin Thomas into the national senior team for the first time. In the 5-0 victory in the first game versus Grenada in this tournament we showed great potential to demolish all comers. The preparation for this tournament started about four months before with very serious and tough physical fitness under trainer Walcott. I remember we played a practice game in the Po lice Barracks versus Caledonia AIA two days before the tournament kicked off. This game gave coach Vidale the ideal opportunity to see what to expect from his charges going into the first game. It prompted the AIA Coach at the time Jamal Shabazz to request a rematch. But this didn’t happen as you all know what transpired that week. All eight teams for this tournament were housed at Cascadia Hotel in St Ann’s “my home town”. This was very trying and testing times for me as captain and citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. After the soldiers on the Trinidad and Tobago national team were called in to duty, six of them, and the other players whose family members were able to provide transport to get to home, I was the only Trinidadian left back at the hotel with the visiting teams. During this period I had to provide mediation on countless occasions as the players from the respective teams looked for ways to ease their frustration on each other. They were all forced to remain throughout the ordeal until flights could take them out of the country. This team in 1990 was special in that without some of the overseas based professionals Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke, we had some players hungry and determine to get on the final squad for the Concacaf Gold Cup that year . They were determined to give it their all to make the final cut. And this was the first time the Gold Cup was being staged. The preparation for the game against Jamaica was very positive as we knew that this was the team that would give us a tough physical battle and we could not think of taking them lightly. We went through our paces as normal and were ready to give an excellent performance as we did versus Grenada. Unfortunately the situation changed as we were all relaxed in the National Stadium watching the encounter between Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines. We all knew what was taking place in the country at the time. I recall hearing a loud noise and saw smoke coming from the area of the Red House in Port of Spain. I said to my teammates that is the Police Headquarters is on fire. Then we saw soldiers armed with machine guns running around the Muslim compound behind the Stadium. This situation did have great concerns on players mentally and football and going out on the field to play a football game under these conditions were the last thing on our minds. History have it we did play the game as for security reasons it was the best option as persons who attended the football game were safer there at that point in time. The result was a 0-0 draw but I think the memories of that day are there for reasons other than football. The events of July 1990 has brought total awareness to this country in that security became more prevalent as never before in my humble view. What I can say is there were eleven men on the field that evening at the national stadium that were carrying the hopes of a nation for another cause and I stand today commending them for their efforts. Unfortunately we could not go onto contest the final against Martinique on July 29th which I felt confident we would have been able to secure a victory and another Shell Cup title for our country. To those families who lost love ones during that time, May God continue to give your strength. I know it’s very tough on you when this time comes around. Keep the faith, “God is Love” T&T players celebrate the 1992 Shell Cup title.

Dr Frederick and I - The relationship

by Shaka Hislop - former English Premiership Goalkeeper from Diamond Vale, Trinidad and Tobago Dr Wayne Frederick and I have been best friends since we were teenagers. The best way I could narrow it down is I was 14 and he was 12 at the time. We just became best friends in CIC and to this day we have no idea why. We were both living in Diamond Vale but that’s all we had in common. He wasn’t a good footballer. He would tell you different but he wasn’t good at all. But we were friends. To this day, and I say this unapologetically, I had no idea why other than the fact that we were young guys and we were friends. He was small. Wayne suffers with sickle cell so he was always very slight growing up but we just connected and shared dreams. Wayne has gone onto an incredible career himself. Image: IPTC Photo Metadata. Following our time at CIC I went onto Howard University. He skipped a year so he ended up a year behind me in school and then when he was trying to figure out his own path post St Mary’s College I told him Howard University was the perfect place. As a matter of fact I filled out his application form, paid the application fee and went and submitted it for him to get into Howard. He came up on an advanced med degree as they call it. So at 16 he was doing both Undergraduate and Med School courses. Then at the time when he became a qualified surgeon, he was the youngest board certified surgeon in US history. So we shared time at Howard University and I then went off to England. He would come to see me play when I first got into the system at Reading FC and when I came back to the States we would catch up. He was a groomsman at my wedding and I was best man at his. We managed to share our successes and always kept in touch and abreast of each other's progress. Strangely we speak in glowing terms when we have to speak individually about each other but when we are together it’s more difficult because we still act like 12 and 14 year-olds. It's the same to this day when I meet up with up the rest of the boys like Brian (Lara), Dwight (Yorke), Russell (Latapy and Stern John. While we are adults now we still find time to joke around or pull at each other just as we did when we were 12 or 13. It's just worth it being able to loosen the tie a little sometimes. But it’s fun and I think there is a bigger message here and I was actually speaking to Penny Commissiong about this recently. We were speaking about peers and the perception about peer pressure and it being a negative. If peer pressure is a negative or if it isn’t a positive then it’s most likely because you’ve got the wrong peers. So us as peers, we’ve been able to encourage and inspire each other despite our differences. As I mentioned we had no idea what brought us together as friends. I was playing sport and he was very bright. I wasn’t that academically accomplished both at my time at CIC and Howard University yet I was able to raise my game academically because of my association with Wayne and that has served me well to this day. I don’t think I could have achieved the things I eventually did academically without him as a friend and I probably couldn’t have achieved the things I did athletically without the likes of Dwight and Russell as my friends in that respect. Shaka and Wayne after completing 5k for the Run to Cure Sickle Cell campaign in 2019 As much as I accept that people see my successes an the path during the course of my career and of course the old cliches of me being a local icon or a role model I just see myself as Shaka Hislop from Diamond Vale. And I made the most of God-given talents.
I made the most of lady luck shining on me and I got some breaks and I made the most of them. But I don’t see myself as being special. The message I’m trying to send here is that you don’t have to see yourself as special to chase those dreams, to have larger than life ambitions and to go after them. You just have to remain focused, have the right people around you and not get distracted. You have to have people who share your ambitions, who share your drive and who will support those dreams. It doesn’t take an outstanding set of circumstances our outstanding ability. It just takes an outstanding effort in recognising who you are and what you want to be and recognising the challenges and in particular the opportunity and breaks when they do come. We can use my example as I did. If you want to become a professional footballer and go onto play in Europe at the highest level, Secondary Schools football is as good a platform or foundation as there is. If you want to go on and become the next breakthrough surgeon, high school in Trinidad and Tobago is as good an academic foundation as any. especially coming from a small country. Coming from a small country we tend to think that we don’t really have the right infrastructure, the right support or the foundation that the others do so therefore chasing big dreams and big accomplishments is something for the Americans and the Europeans that are unique to them and they are the only ones that have the right to it. And I say that is nonsense. We have all the tools we have right here in Trinidad and Tobago. It is about how we put our thoughts and abilities together to really endure everything that we will encounter during that journey. It is about pulling everything together and pushing limits in order to achieve what we are capable of. The Howard University Board of Trustees announced on July 20th, 2020 that it has selected President Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA to serve as the distinguished Charles R. Drew Endowed Chair of Surgery.  Dr. Frederick succeeds the late Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. as the second person appointed to the prestigious position. Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick was appointed the 17th President of Howard University in 2014. He previously served as provost and chief academic officer. A distinguished scholar and administrator, Dr. Frederick has advanced Howard University’s commitment to student opportunity, academic innovation, public service, and fiscal stability. Following his post-doctoral research and surgical oncology fellowships at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Frederick began his academic career as associate director of the Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut. Upon his return to Howard University, his academic positions included associate dean in the College of Medicine, division chief in the Department of Surgery, director of the Cancer Center and deputy provost for Health Sciences.  Dr. Frederick has received various awards honoring his scholarship and service. Shaka Hislop who wrote this piece for Pushing Limits, is an ESPN Soccer analyst and standout former professional football (soccer) player who, as a dual national citizen, played for both England and his native Trinidad & Tobago, making history as the starting goalkeeper on the T&T national team’s first ever World Cup match in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in the historic 0-0 draw with Sweden in Dortmund. He was also the first member of the Trinidad & Tobago World Cup squad to be inducted into his country’s Sporting Hall of Fame. Shaka played over 400 games in combined league and national team competition during his 15 year career. The vast majority was in the Premier League as a goalkeeper for Newcastle United, West Ham, Reading and Portsmouth. During his time at Newcastle United the team placed second in the Premier League for two successive seasons under Kevin Keegan’s first tenure. He received a FA Cup runners-up medal with West Ham when they lost to Liverpool in May 2006, less than a month before T&T's 2006 World Cup opener.

Stop waiting to do something

by Shaun Fuentes "Keep living the best way you can." That’s what I tell most people nowadays anytime they ask me how I’m doing or coping after which I respond and return the question, “What about you.” Sometimes they are positive and a lot of times they shrug and respond “I’m there” or “Ah Dey” as we tend to say in Trinidad and Tobago. We get caught up a lot in trying to get somewhere, somehow in the future. We are always wondering or worrying about what happened or what may happen. It’s an easy mindset to get caught in. It’s the idea that the future is where happiness lies. Not here. Not now. Not this. We are constantly trying to figure out how we can achieve our fullest potential, realise our dreams and ambitions whether it be a better company, new house, nicer car, better relationship or our next big trip abroad. Well we aren’t spending too much time thinking about traveling these days. But you get catch my drift. We are always focusing on how we can ‘work it all out. So we rush into getting things done, our minds racing at night, and our feet quickly out the door next morning after that instant cup of coffee. We strive and we wait. Wait for the right time, the better moment, the future. And in the waiting we overlook the fact that our life is happening, moment by moment….too often passing us by only half lived. “The energy of waiting can have us caught up in our heads hooked on the wishes we want to be filled, the plans we want to execute and the dreams we believe we need to come true.” Not waiting doesn’t mean we have to put off plans or give up on ambitions. Instead it can see us bring our primary focus to how we meet the unfolding moment. It can range from enjoying a movie, a meal, a prayer session, housework, exercising - with your entire immediate family, your parents, your spouse, your kids, your teammates or your friends. This is referred to as engaging fully in the journey instead of waiting to arrive at our destination. The present moment could be described as the flow of life. It is the space in which your entire life unfolds. Your true home. When we learn to stop leaning into the next experience – wanting and waiting for a particular outcome, we are finally free to know and experience life and this moment fully. This involves a relaxed, warm and welcoming awareness. Instead of clinging it, lets things be. It doesn’t deny or push anything away. It allows the flow of life to come towards us and we respond to it moment by moment. We dance with the flow of life. In this way we develop a skillful and loving connection with reality. My mother is Muslim and deeply spiritual. My father and I along with my sister are Roman Catholics. I am single with no kids at the moment but it is one of my ambitions to raise a family of my own one day. I asked both parents what do we pray for? Other than the usual protection and guidance for ourselves and loved ones, a secured future, health among so many other things. And this is not me trying to tell the two people who I owe my upbringing to how they should pray or what they should pray for. It is a simple case of me saying to them that a simple thing of asking God to guide us more on how to be patient with everyone around us and extending more love and affection as it could make all the difference in the world as it relates to how the rest of our lives are spent. Listen, we all have our ways. We are going to disagree, we are going to argue and we may not always laugh. It is within our right to make our choices as to what we believe is wrong or right and who deserves our love or not. But I think the more we live the more we learn and the less days we have to show love and try to have that positive effect on the people in our lives. So why delay. Ask for God’s guidance in clearing our hearts and minds in a way that allows us to add more spark into the universe through love and to have that positive impact on those around us, whether it be in our homes, our workplace or in the pharmacy we step into. Life can be messy no doubt. There will always be another problem to solve, goal to reach, mess to clean up, wound to heal. If you get it all together something usually falls apart again in the next moment. If you get what you want, another desire will soon arise. It’s just the way of being human. “We laugh together. We enjoy the good days Mommy has and we even embrace the hard days. We don’t really have a choice in the matter. So we just embrace all the days, because in the end, having another day is all we can ask for.” Those were the words of someone who was enduring the pain of a loved one who had been fighting cancer a second time and they didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Most times we take days and weeks, and even years for granted. We live our lives like we have an unlimited amount of time left. But there comes a time when we don’t or can't do that anymore. And this should not be something we are forced into because of a circumstance that indicates we may not have much time left on this earth. We don’t take a single moment for granted. We can’t afford to. And if you get nothing out of reading this, get that. Because you can’t afford to, either. You just don’t know what tomorrow holds. So, love your people and love them hard. Don’t wait for a diagnosis or a tragedy or death to do this. Please. Just trust me on this one. You don't need to hug everyone or take loved ones to the best dinners. A simple smile with a "Hello, how you been?" could work wonders. It sets a stage. “And if we’re being completely honest in the end, everyone has their “hard.” Our hard just happens to be cancer right now. But each and every one of us is dealing with or will be dealing with a hard sooner than later,” the person also said. Whatever you’re waiting for, sometimes it feels like our lives are on hold while we wait for some magic moment in the future, when everything is going to change. Stop waiting! Do something right when you can!

Playing for Trinidad and Tobago meant everything

by Andre Charles Foster,
former Trinidad and Tobago U-17,U-20 and U-23 UK-based Goalkeeper I’ve been sitting here trying to write this for a long time thinking what have my experiences with the Trinidad and Tobago national team taught me. What have I taken and used in the future since that time of my life. Who would I be if I hadn’t travelled that course which led to how has it made me who I am today. The whole experience of playing for Trinidad and Tobago gave me so much that I am grateful for today. Things that money couldn't buy. Certainly not cash from my pocket at that stage of my life. Learning to adapt and integrate to new environments quickly, learning to be independent and that the only thing constant is change! How to deal with expectations and failure, how to fight and prove your abilities and finally how to deal with disappointment from yourself and others. This was like a masters in preparing me for life in my 20s, 30s and beyond. Andre Charles at left with his wife and son. The Summer of '02 Self-belief, adaptability, constant change While I wish I could take you through a type of “The Last Dance” journey unfortunately I don’t have the writing skills for that. Instead I'll travel back to the summer of 2002. I had a great season having won the league with my team Burnham Ramblers, got into my county representative team and also our schools county representative teams, not to mention, having both Chelsea and Ipswich scouts watching my games. I was on a high football wise.

This was my third time back on the island since leaving with my mum, having fallen in love with the country in my last visit in 2000 and experiencing the millennium carnival. I was on holiday with my dad when I saw an advert on the TV saying there would be trials for the National U-17 team for the Caribbean leg of qualifiers in 2001. Being on holiday with no boots, gloves, shinpads or anything, it was off to the mall at San Fernando to pick up my essentials. The day of the trial I wasn’t nervous but instead just calm and excited to show what I could do and hope to make the team. I remember saying to myself be loud and commanding as it’s time to step up. I remember after the trial game asking my dad what he thought and he said he felt my positioning was a little high out of the goal which was true. I used to play more aggressively because I didn’t have the pace to intercept through balls but I had the height to not get lobbed. I met Dion La Foucade who seemed happy with my performance and checking to see if I had the documents needed to play, which I did. Eventually I made the squad and flew home knowing I would be back in a few months for the World Cup qualifiers if I could get a month off school (6th form) to participate in the build up and the tournament. During my time away I found out Dion had been replace by Ron La Forest. I can’t say I wasn’t a little worried as the man who selected my had been removed. Would I have the same trust from the new head coach? So school work in hand, I made my way back to Trinidad to stay with my Godmother in the north rather than traveling from Point Fortin to every training session. I had to grow up pretty fast as I was getting Maxis and Taxis to training in a country I hadn’t really known. I never saw it as anything other than a privilege, as I was getting to play international football. You hear older players who become coaches say they take a bit of every coach they played under and it is the same for me. Ron would light up my imagination on how football should be played. The freedom and encouragement to make some magic happen in the final third was unbelievable and a far cry from what I had been used to in England.

Photo at right shows Andre in goal for T&T at the Marvin Lee Stadium. He encouraged 1v1 and dribbling past people, entertaining the crowd.

Players like Gorian Highley and Josimar Belgrave were so naturally gifted and thrived under that style of management. For me working under Goalkeeper coach Michael McComie was great he pushed and pushed us goalkeepers and I always enjoyed his training sessions. May his Soul rest in peace. Unfortunately a reoccurring theme with my time with all of the national teams would be one of missed opportunities. We were the better team in all three games but we just couldn’t score 2 goals in 3 games and that tells its own story. We drew each of our three games with Guyana, St Lucia and host country Bermuda. For me conceding the two in three games was also disappointing because I love clean sheets and if we kept three clean sheets we would have gone through to the next phase. The experience itself was still great, from playing in front of my biggest crowd, 4,000 to trying to motivate yourself and teammates after disappointing results, to carrying the expectations of a nation on your shoulders for the first time. Integration, self-discipline, proving yourself again The call for the U-20 came unexpectedly whilst I was studying at university. After the disappointment of not getting a contract at Chelsea, I was concentrating on making sure I had a back-up plan in case football wasn’t the path I was meant to tread. This team had been through the CFU qualifying round already so when I turned up to training I had to prove myself. I was the “Englishman” again which I always understood but also found strange because to people in England I wasn’t English or at least traditional English.

The leader of the group was Radanfah Abu Bakr or “Duff” as everyone called him. A real leader even at that age. He did what all good captains do and that was to try to keep the standards of the group high which meant testing and pushing the newcomer but he also made sure I wasn’t left out and was a true part of the group. Of that group Keon Daniel was the guy with magic in his boots whereas Hayden Tinto was similar to Gorian Highly, a devastating combination of pace and dribbling ability. This team is where I had to learn to put aside my disappointment and learn to become a player for the team. No matter what, you work harder than the day before. In the days before we left for the United States for the Concacaf Final round, we had played against the Trinidad and Tobago Senior team in a training match. I saw this as a perfect chance to test myself against senior pros, to see where I was compared to them. I always loved the challenge of playing teams and people better than me as it always brought the best out in me. However, I didn’t even play one minute and it hurt. It also basically confirmed I would be number 2 choice for the tournament, which hurt even more.

All the effort and discipline but no reward. So I had to adjust my attitude, stop feeling sorry for myself and work harder in the couple of training sessions before the first game against the US. We were up against a US team consisting of Freddy Adu (who was making headlines around the world at the time) and Eddie Gaven, another US youngster who was breaking into senior football. I had to do whatever it took to try and convince head coach Anton Corneal and Mike McComie I was the number 1 for them heading into the games in January.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work and I was left out against the US and Costa Rica but played in the final game against Panama which I was grateful for. I got my chance to represent my country once again, something you don’t ever take for granted! The US ended up qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and we were out. But it still felt good to be part of a national under 20 team as that year the qualifiers for the Germany 2006 World Cup were taking place and there was a lot of football news in the spotlight. T&T would go on to qualify for the big stage in November that year and the celebrations were massive. I felt close to the whole effort knowing that I was part of the youth setup. Disappointment and confrontation Much like my time heading into the U-17s, I was coming into the U-23 Olympic squad in 2007 full of confidence. I just played my first full season of first team senior football at semi-pro level. I had Sheffield United scouts watching me without any firm interest and I finally finished my studies so was ready to kick start my professional career. Another opportunity to play for my country and hopefully we could progress and I could put myself in the shop window in the following rounds. I was the kid that would step to take penalties and pretend on the field to be Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Marvin Andrews, Angus Eve, Carlos Edwards, Hector Sam, Stern John Dennis and Lawrence or be saving shots as Shaka Hislop. My early nickname in school was Shaka after the former Reading, Newcastle, West ham and Portsmouth man. I was the one with his face painted in the colours of flag sitting in a bar full of England supporters in 2006. And I was the one who was part of a team who had had not lived up to expectations and it hurt. I left Trinidad determined as ever to make sure I never had that feeling again in football or life.

Would I do it all over again? Heck yes I would. There is nothing that can take the place of putting on the national shirt and stepping into battle for your country. I have witnessed first hand why it is so important for young boys and girls, men and women to have that opportunity, a fair one at that, to represent their country, realise their dreams and fulfill their ambitions through sport and football. It is a part of my life that I look back at with no regrets but only pride and joy and I sure do hope that this can be the same story for many others to come from the twin-island Republic.

Andre played professionally for eight months with Joe Public FC in Trinidad and Tobago in 2008. He completed a BA in Football studies at Solent University in 2007 after attending St Thomas More High School 1996-2004. Between 2016-2018 he was the global lead for Multicultural ERG United which focused on Recruitment and Retention, Strategic diversity and inclusion partnerships including Black is the new black at National Portrait Gallery. He was also a head supervisor at Mansion nightclub. He is currently a Product Manager at Xasis, in the EMEA HQ team looking after products across 23 countries.

Speaking your Dreams into Existence

by Shaun Fuentes You are either in the late stages of education or now a drop out, maybe working a 9-5 or still in search of something proper that pays and your best friends are busy on their own beat while your family is too far to reach.

To play the game or to be someone in the game, that dream has been with you longer that the birth of your youngest sibling. You are an aspiring professional with a dream to make it big. Your daydream is interrupted by a telephone call. It’s your mother on the line. “Are you making any money yet. Why don’t you get a job,” your mother asks. “Yes, mammy, I am still  training and waiting on my break”. She  responds, “Why don’t you get a real job? There’s no money in sport unless you playing T20 cricket for a big side or playing football in Europe.” Trinidad and Tobago's Machel Cedenio, Asa Guevara, Jareem Richards and Deon Lendore celebrate their victory at the IAAF World Relays 4x400 metres relay event in Yokohama, Japan. Photo:AP

Does this describe an interaction that you’ve had with people when you tell them you are an athlete, a footballer, a cricketer or a working member of staff in a sporting organization in Trinidad and Tobago?  How does it make your feel when your support system doesn’t support you?

I’ve been there before. Standing in front of family members, friends and even former girlfriends feeling persecuted for following my heart. Standing there, knowing where my heart lies and knowing what I’ve been putting out over all these years and facing the disappointment of those around me, whether it be fellow workers or potential partners who might have let me down or not strong enough to believe in something bigger than the  current scenario at the time.

When Dwight Yorke reached out to me last week to assist in putting out a note of condolence for him on the passing  of Neil Wilson, his former personal manager since his early days at Aston Villa, the conversation reminded me of several factors that contributes to a successful professional. Dwight as we all know had that drive instilled in him from a tender age. But as we always recount in our conversations, while he got the break when being spotted by Graham Taylor in the late 1980s and had someone such as Bertille St Clair always sticking on his case, he didn’t always have the kind of support one would wake up every morning and go “Things are great and I know I can rely on so many people when things aren’t going my way.” He had to work his socks off but found a way to find the right balance and persons like Neil Wilson stuck it out with him, offering guidance and support when and where it mattered.

There are three main areas of focus that can help you realise your dreams when the support system isn’t always there. In order for you to thrive without a support system you need to have a vision. It’s called crystalising your dream. Vision is loosely defined as the act or power of anticipation. What are you focused on? What do you like to do? What do your dreams look like? Answers these questions so you can truly understand the things you are passionate about. When family members and friends try to squash your dreams, think about your vision. Remember your vision is powerful and inspiring. Just ask Dwight, Russell Latapy, Brian Lara, Dennis Lawrence, Stern John or Kieiron Pollard. Matter of fact even the school principal and the store manager had vision.

The other thing is ensuring there is faith. Faith in your God and faith in yourself. Your vision motivates you to activate your faith.

You already worked on strengthening your vision and your faith. The next thing you need to work on is speaking your dream into real time.  “Speak” your dream into existence. Utilize positive self-talk every time your family members or friends try to minimize or cut down your dreams.

There are moments however when we can talk  about dreams all day but then things keep popping up that seem intent on killing those dreams. From poor management, lack of compensation, unsuitable facilities and infrastructure to corrupt or bias practices and you're thinking "Why on earth am I even bothering with this?" Have the strength to remember your vision. Every push-up, every shooting practice, every training session and every team meeting pushes you one step closer to your dream. None of this is new but it's all tested and has turned out true with many able to testify over time.

Will Smith once said "Our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, our ideas are physical in the universe, that if we dream something, if we picture something, it adds a physical thrust towards realization that we can put into the universe."

Be like Smith and maintain that will in pursuit of your dreams.

Making the 'Covid experience' count

by Shaun Fuentes The coronavirus has dramatically changed our lives. One thing it has shown us -- we don’t really need as much as we thought we needed back in February. But, there are still things we do need, maybe more than ever. We all had big plans as sporting enthusiasts, officials and athletes. We were finally going to take a different approach, a more professional, transparent, accountable one. We were finally planning to engage the best professionals, the right programme with the best conditions.

We were about two and a half months into the new year, fresh with motivation and ready to tackle 2020, when our entire world was turned upside down by a new virus. Championships, tournaments, overseas assignments and so much more were cancelled. Outside closed indefinitely. There are so many things were waiting on the year 2020 to do. What quarantine has taught us is a bitter but necessary lesson. We need to stop waiting for a right time or an occasion to do what we believe to be the right things. The reality is that pandemic or not, none of us ever knows what tomorrow holds... coronavirus has forced us to face that. The Covid period has shown us a lot in terms of things we need and those things that we don’t necessarily need. I will not be able to list all but I can touch on a few.This pandemic has shown a bright light on a very human need -- the need for other humans. When this thing is over, everyone who lived through it will have a new appreciation for the moral, physical and spiritual support other human beings offer.

The pandemic has reminded professional services providers of the importance of entrenching themselves in other people’s business whether it be the needs or ambitions of athletes, sporting organizations leaders, coaches or youth.Maintaining relationships  like sports and entertainment, staying visible – is paramount to retaining and developing business, both now and in the future. Showing an understanding of what an athlete or an official is going through and being able to provide the appropriate professional guidance can go a long way. Persons, especially athletes, will remember those who adapted by finding meaningful ways to engage with them during a challenging time.

The Covid has taught us we don’t need a packed schedule of unnecessary social engagements, shaking hands or cash but we do need internet, exercise and time to reflect.  And in reflecting we can learn more about what really matters and how much or how little we've actually been engaged in something that can benefit us. And for those involved in sport in whatever way can realise  the reasons in which engaging in sport is a vital part of our development. Sport teaches tenacity. The ability to fail and learn from the setback and move forward is a vital life skill. Learning that failure is not the end, but part of the learning experience has far-reaching implications, affecting our self-esteem, our resilience, and our mental agility.. Sport teaches teamwork. Even if you are naturally someone who is happy with your own company or more introverted, there are times when you will need to collaborate. Sport encourages the development of this skill set.  Sport teaches discipline. Motivation is finite but our capacity for motivation can be bolstered. Evidence shows that people are less likely to suffer from depression and experience greater life satisfaction.

These last few weeks have shown us the value of investing more in reading, science and technology programs because it's all we could partake in while being barred from outdoor activities. It is evident that where the educational benefits of sports shouldn’t be overlooked.

Sports mirror life and the workforce. For example, in sports you sometimes get a bad call from the referee or umpire. When that happens, you can either let it get to you and lose the game, or you can adapt, put the bad call behind you and do your best to win the game. Perhaps we may think Covid was a bad call. Others may think it was a call that came at the right time in order to present more time to get things right. Sporting organizations could well have used this period to restructure and adopt better systems and procedures that could benefit them going forward. Athletes may now be better educated on training regimes that suit them best.

We all want things to resume to what we knew it to be pre-March 2020. Sports hold a special place in our hearts. It's entertainment and it's an escape. It's means to meaningful arguments and discussions, bond, recall, mesmerize, compete and admire. It would be a shame if we sacrificed for three months but came out of the starting blocks without much to show for all we've been through or still going through.

Influential Athletes striking a blow

by Shaun Fuentes There was a time when sports used to be simple. You play games, you have fun playing or watching the games. Be entertained! Now it’s so much more. And at every level from the grassroots and youth leagues right up to the Pros. It’s now big business that generates big money and even bigger influence. In the justice system sporting figures are maybe more than ever at the centre of criminal investigations because they once felt invincible but are no more. And then the  good part where the world produces rising numbers of heroes and influential figures that are discussed in bars, restaurants, on airplanes and taxis, in home and  so many other parts of different countries and even by the Pope.  At the elite level, World Cups and Olympics, sports has helped give countries credibility but can also spark international conflict. Sport today is bigger and more powerful than ever with key personalities and athletes wielding more influence over culture and politics. When top athletes talk, why does the public listen so closely? Because, in many cases, they have more power than politicians. And this is why more than ever our athletes need to be so in tune with current affairs and with everything that technology has become there is simply no excuse for not being informed and educated. Saying you didn’t know the full story or simply erasing what you posted is inexcusable. If you don’t know then don’t say anything.  Keep your thoughts to yourself. Times certainly have changed from decades gone by when people in general, particularly  athletes were expected to absorb every setback and insult on their own. There’s more support now. Only good things can come from athletes opening up about issues that affect us. The more athletes talk, the more fans and the general public might feel inspired to fight and speak up against social issues, racism and inequality. It all points to changing attitudes in sports – and society. Colin Kaepernick’s decision in 2016 to not stand for the national anthem as a protest against the oppression of people of colour lit a political fuse that continues to burn through the sports world and society.In 2017, he was honored by Sports Illustrated with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. In 2018, he was given the prestigious W.E.B Du Bois Medal from Harvard University for  his work combatting racial injustice and inequality. "I feel like it's not only my responsibility, but all our responsibilities as people that are in positions of privilege, in positions of power, to continue to fight for them and uplift them, empower them," Kaepernick said in a speech at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. "Because if we don't, we become complicit in the problem." While his bold stand earned him widespread praise and scorn, time will tell as it is doing now whether his legacy mirrors that of Muhammad Ali who is considered the most influential social activist in the history of sport. There are men and women who are among a list of influential athletes who struck a blow for social change, equality and justice. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a US Presidential Medal of Honor recipient, was among a number of prominent black athletes in the 1960s and '70s to embrace social activism and take a stand for civil rights. Like  Ali before him, Abdul-Jabbar made the decision to convert to Islam and changed his name from Lew Alcindor. This was a powerful statement of independence that threatened both his popularity and career.The pioneers in the area of college athlete activism were the "Syracuse Eight," a group of Syracuse University football players who walked out of a spring football practice in 1970 to protest racial discrimination on campus and within the football program.They paid a high price for their stand. They were kicked off the team and their athletic careers ended. Despite sitting out the following the season, they were allowed to keep their scholarships and graduate. When LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates wore black hoodies to show their support for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, it spurred countless dinner time conversations about whether athletes should even involve themselves in serious issues. Should athletes keep their focus on the playing field, or do they have a duty to speak out on social issues because so many people look up to them? I believe the latter. Awareness is vital here. Being aware of yourself and things around you will give you an insight into your beliefs and whether they are positive or negative and can determine how you influence others around you and by extension the wider community. This is hard work and you need to assign time to constantly look at what you do and break this down,  realising that improved awareness  has a dramatic and positive effect. It's your call. Stand up and be counted for or simply stay on the sidelines if you are unsure. Shaun Fuentes is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and has overseen the communications and media operations of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association since 2000.

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