By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 06, 2011
I have had mixed feelings about Jack’s fall from grace. I have not been able to garner the venom that some have displayed toward him nor the delight others have taken in his departure from FIFA. I am yet to see how Jack’s actions have so maligned Trinidad and Tobago that I have to hang my head in shame when I am in the outside world. Few Americans hang their heads in shame in light of Madoff’s shenanigans.
My association with Jack goes back to the first time we met at the Tacarigua Anglican School in 1976 at a meeting of the Eddie Hart League in which, if memory serves me correctly, he was trying to take over the League or become more involved in it. The Eddie Hart League, the most popular football league at that time in which more than one hundred teams participate, was graced by the presence of football greats such as Ulric “Buggie” Haynes, Keith Aqui, Everett Gally Cummings, Jerry Brown and Leroy de Leon.
Later I got to know more about Jack’s humble beginnings and followed his meteoric rise to the top of the soccer world. I admired his tenacity, intellectual prowess and sheer dogmatism that got him to where he had arrived. Jack remained the same Jack no matter how high he climbed: approachable, generous and cantankerous but a Trini in every essential sense of the term. Even at the height of his power, Jack had no problem dropping by the hotel at which we stayed in Germany and bringing tickets for a few of us to see the USA vs. Italy game during World Cup 2006. And, he wined and dined us as though we were kings.
Jack also did a lot for Caribbean football. During his reign two teams from the smallest island nations in the world (Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica) made it to the World Cup, a feat that was unprecedented. Because of Jack several Caribbean footballers now play in the top football leagues around the world. One observer notes: “Let’s see what happens to Caribbean football in the next ten years now that Jack is gone.”
Jack was also generous. One could always turn to Jack if one’s organization had a problem and needed help. He kept his little book, it is true, but it was not as if he made his money, by fair means and/or foul, and kept it for himself. It was almost as though he was playing the Robin Hood role in black skin: liberating goods from the rich to ease the sufferings of the poor.
I am not here to commend Jack’s behavior nor to set him up as the ultimate champion of ethics (although I am sure he had an ethics of his own) or morality in pubic affairs. Jack worked for FIFA which many have described as a mafia-styled organization. No one expected him to act as a choir boy in such an organization when its ethics demanded that one acted otherwise. And so he played the part to the hilt.
As in everything else, fame and fortune prevent one from seeing what is possible and what constitutes over-reacting. Sometimes, one forgets at one’s peril that no matter how high a black man gets in any organization he still remains a black man or worse an appellation that begins with the infamous “n” word. You do not insult kings and presidents; prime ministers and chancellors and believe that one can get away scotch free.
And then he became much too flamboyant. He challenged Step Blatter, invited Ben Hamman to Port of Spain, and participated (so it is alleged) in giving out of funds without regard to its consequences. He threw caution to the wind; bet on the wrong horse and lost. My mother used to say, “You do and do until yo’ overdo.” Eventually, Jack over did.
A spectacular chapter of Jack’s life has come to an end and now his career is on the decline. But who is willing to forget the excitement the nation felt when we saw our colors flying at the World Cup in 2006. Who would forget-I certainly can’t forget-the playing of the British national anthem followed by our national anthem as we faced Britain in the first round of the qualifying matches? On that day, more than any other, I felt as an authentic Trini, bereft of the negations that centuries of English colonialism had imbibed within us.
One cannot be proud of how Jack treated the players who brought such glory to our country. They should not have had to go to court to get their just due. That remains a blemish on Jack’s outstanding stewardship. Nor can one be proud of the many persons who felt victimized because they were not in Jack’s camp. The stories of discarded coaches, maligned players and wronged officials fill our ears with sadness. This is a side of Jack that he might regret one day.
But Jack had another side of which we can all be proud. Garth Crooks, a former Tottenham Hotspurs footballer and broadcaster for the BBC, put it best when I spoke with him in London on Sunday. He said: “Whatever else you think of Jack Warner, you have to respect what he achieved for Caribbean football on the world stage and that is glory he enough.” Crooks should know. He represented England in soccer and knows the working of FIFA well.
Jacks is 68 years old, a man at the beginning of old age. He should take comfort in the affection that many of us hold for him. On his seventieth birthday, Rubindranath Tagore, one of India’s greatest poets and statesmen, reflected on the adulation that was bestowed on him and said: “We offer someone our devotion according to the measure of his greatness, our respect according to the measure of his competence; but affection uses no rule of measurement. When love begins its homage it gives itself entire.”
Jack participation in national politics remains a challenging issue. Undoubtedly, I will say something about this in the future. For now, I acknowledge my affection for him and offer him my homage. There is much about him of which the nation should be proud.