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In defence of sponsored black athletes

Ewart Brown presents Bermudian athlete Tre Houston with $4,000 in sponsorship (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

When I read the recent Royal Gazette editorial “Something to smile about amid the gloom”, I was delighted that Bermuda’s only daily newspaper was recognising excellent athletic performances by young Bermudians abroad.

And I read on, only to see that the Editor had gratuitously singled me out for special mention. “Ask Ewart Brown, the former leader of the country. He and Bermuda Healthcare Services think nothing of sponsoring promising athletes — but only if they look like he does, despite others being more deserving of such philanthropy.”

There are two unnecessary and undeserved insults here:

1, The first insult is to BHCS and me. At first blush, I thought it was the usual negative shower from The Royal Gazette, one that began long before Dexter Smith became its first black editor. So I read it again. Yes, here it was in black and white. I was being criticised for sponsoring athletes who look like me.

Since 2012, after my wife and I went to the London Olympics, BHCS has awarded sponsorships for up to $5,000 each to elite track and field athletes who qualify for the Olympics. The recipients have included Arantxa King, Tyrone Smith, Aaron Evans and Tre Houston. I, like many others in the world who give, sometimes have sentimental reasons for contributing to a certain sector, institution or for a special cause tied to a personal experience or story.

I had an Olympic dream. In 1968, after qualifying to run the 400 metres in the Mexico City Olympics, I had to withdraw because dates for the Olympic events were pushed to October because of stadium construction issues. I had to choose between my Olympic dream and attending medical school. As painful as it was at the time, I made the correct decision.

So, forgive me, Mr Editor, for being human and having a special place in my heart for track and field athletes who work hard to qualify for the Olympics — I was one of those young people once. I will forgive you and the editorial board of The Royal Gazette for not being able to see through racist imagery quite far enough to be able to understand and know that even black people can give based on personal, sentimental experiences — yes, for this reason, as opposed to because of race or who looks like whom.

BHCS sponsorships are for track and field athletes of Olympic class ... period. As much as I admire the accomplishments of Jessica Lewis, she does not qualify for our BHCS sponsorship. The same holds for Flora Duffy, whose performances have been outstanding. The majority of Bermuda’s track stars are black; that holds true for the whole world. But that’s the subject of another debate.

BHCS will continue to support our Bermudian track and field Olympians, as well as other sports and causes we choose. For that, we make no apologies.

2, The second insult is to the hard-working athletes who have been the recipients of BHCS sponsorships. Who is The Royal Gazette to determine that BHCS has given to black athletes “despite others being more deserving of such philanthropy”? Shame on you. How dare you “throw shade” on these BHCS-sponsored young people, who train, sacrifice and pour their hearts and bodies into their Olympic dreams — all because you think someone else is more deserving. Until you walk — or run — a mile in their or my shoes, that is not your call to make. You are out of order. And, you owe every athlete recipient of BHCS sponsorships an apology. I hope you are big enough to give them that.

What is so sad here is that the editorial board has chosen to criticise a local business for sponsoring certain athletes at a time when most businesses in Bermuda don’t sponsor any athletes.

Which athletes do you sponsor, Royal Gazette? How much money do you give to athletes pursuing their dreams? Why don’t you save for special mention, and call out, the persons and many businesses in Bermuda who make millions here and do not support any of our athletes? If all successful businesses donated to the sports dreams of our Bermudian youth, imagine how many children we might have off the streets and in the gym, swimming pool or on the field. Just imagine.

So, let’s close the book on which athletes BHCS chooses to sponsor. And, please, let us never again speak of which athletes are more deserving than others. Let us encourage all of our young people to pursue their dreams and make their country proud in the process.

Ewart Brown MD served as the Premier of Bermuda between 2006 and 2010

Editor’s note: To answer Dr Brown’s question, The Royal Gazette sponsors the End-to-End Charity Walk, the Bermuda Summer Football School, the Thinner Winner Contest and the Wahoo fishing tournament, among several other causes. In standing by the opinion of February 2, it bears stating that at no time did we intend to demean the efforts of black Olympic athletes but instead shine a light for equality of all athletes, whatever their race, able-bodied or disabled.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities or discontinue them when the discourse is lowered by commenters to unacceptable standards. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.