Less than 48 hours after the NBA announced the suspension of the rest of the 2019/2020 season back in March, Kevin Love, a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers announced that he would be donating US$100,000 to the staff members at the team’s arena who would otherwise go unpaid during the period. Soon after a cluster of NBA players followed Love’s lead, pitching in hundreds of thousands of dollars to their respective teams’ arena and support staff, which at that point had not yet received word from their employers on their work status.
You think NBA, Premier League, NFL and other top leagues across the globe and you can instantly acknowledge that with coaches and players making top dollar, they can easily afford such gestures, commendable nonetheless. Now think about sporting leagues here in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean, particularly sporting clubs. I mentioned staff earlier but what about the athletes. Not only are they struggling to earn an income but there is very little opportunity for them to do something otherwise. Football clubs in Trinidad and Tobago for one are mostly cash strapped, even during an active season so you can imagine what happens when there is no football being played. When the outbreak completely shut down the world of sports this year, thousands of athletes either saw their seasons come to an abrupt end or the possibilities of new opportunities going out the door.
While it’s difficult as it is for fans to grapple with reality it’s that much more life-shattering for the athletes who are panicking over the possibility of realizing their lifelong goals, to no fault of their own. Not many people talk about what comes next for athletes. They train for hours on end preseason and during, you have student-athletes whose studies often suffer from the amount of time spent working out and the mental strain that comes with the added load. It’s worth it for them because they have our minds set on a very specific goal. Then it comes to an end.
For these athletes, their lives have been dedicated to something that has suddenly been taken away from them and which is unlikely to be returned. So what advice is there for them? What do we do about their current state? Athletes can be obsessive in nature, so they should find something new and healthy to obsess over even though that is easier said than done. But the authorities must find a way to meet them at some point, if not even halfway. We must seek to understand what they are going through as they now have a big void in their lives to fill, and at least some compassion can be there to compensate in whatever little way.
While most of the top athletes have either already signed on to new deals or fortunate to be currently active in existing arrangements, it’s the next tier of athletes who are feeling shutdowns the most with no idea as to what is next. Without a home gym, and only a rudimentary weight bench and bar in his aunt's backyard in Cedros, national team member Justin Sadoo and ex-T&T Under 17 player Jerrin Jackie have been going through their workouts quietly hoping for the next opportunity.
"Well, we are far from as fortunate as some of the bigger clubs like the US or Costa Rica where we have teammates playing so we have to be creative. Our clubs here don't own gyms or stadiums so it makes it harder for us. We have to do a lot of things on our own. It's hard but that is the reality especially if we want to make it," Jackie told me.
"There is no kind of income coming in for us as footballers for the past six months. So we have to depend on family and friends. We could try to find a little odd job but as an athlete, it's not the best option but we have to make something happen. As long as we’re able to play in the next season or next year, we’ll be all right," he added. But even that last bit of hope has uncertainties.
Although original sporting goals are now on hiatus, COVID-19 can’t stop us from creating new challenges that incorporate some of the same purposes, perhaps in a new form. The current circumstances should have already or can push us to find a new sense of “aliveness” in being of service to others. So currently, except for Trinidad Knight Riders, “winning” in sports may not be directly about getting a trophy or improving your ranking, but rather finding new ways to boost your mood and enjoy the process of participating and growing. The world is changing, and we need to adjust and find new goals that can still keep us in the game. At least, for now, we have the joy of witnessing via our television sets just how a captain can keep his side in the game as Kieron Pollard did at the Queen's Park Oval on Saturday when he struck 72 runs of 28 balls to steal victory from the opposition.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer. The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.