What do we expect from our sports media? Cheerleading? Fiercely independent critiques? Somewhere in between?
I ask these questions in the wake of the sudden passing of Dave Lamy on Friday, a stalwart in sports broadcasting whose commentary on horseracing, cricket and football, together with duties as a sports news announcer, followed by his role in researching and chronicling the deeds of sporting achievers of decades past for the First Citizens (previously WITCO) Sports Foundation, have rightfully elicited fulsome praise for his contribution as broadcaster/journalist for more than five decades.
As the person who introduced me to sports broadcasting in 1991 at what was then the Trinidad Broadcasting Corporation, at the time when the concept of Radio Tempo — all sport and all local music — was being introduced, I owe Dave a debt of gratitude, even as he chose to migrate shortly after to the new challenge offered by this country’s first privately-owned broadcast entity: TV6 and Prime 106FM.
Maybe I should tread very carefully on this issue, but it is something worth discussing, especially after reading the tributes of Jack Warner and Joe Hadeed as reported in the Trinidad Guardian on Saturday.
Warner, the controversial former football supremo who enjoyed a long friendship with Lamy, is reported as saying: “He was one of the last remaining true journalists, particularly in the field of sport. His reporting has always been par excellence and therefore his passing will leave a void in this country that cannot be easily filled.”
Hadeed, many times a champion racehorse trainer whom I have since learnt also enjoys an appreciation, like I do, of American football (NFL), offered this tribute: “Sports has lost an icon. His legacy is fairness. He listened to everybody. He listened to every side of the problem. He listened to the association and the athletes. He tried his best to understand what every side was going through and he never took a side. He was always fair and balanced.”
We are all products of the times in which we live, and I wonder though if Dave’s style of steering clear of controversy or preferring not to lock horns with leading figures on the sporting landscape would be seen in the contemporary context as avoiding confronting the real, vexing issues for the sake of maintaining good relations with the good, the great, the popular and the powerful on the sporting scene.
I will leave it to more seasoned personalities in the profession to assess whether or not the era before the liberalisation of the broadcast media in 1991 (when there was only TTT, NBS and privately-owned TBC) was really the “golden age” of media in this country, as it is often described, to the extent that it was highlighted by independent investigative work and the holding of public individuals to account in a manner that redounded to the benefit of this country.
Dave started his media career at Radio Trinidad as an understudy to Raffie Knowles, no mean sportsman in his own right, but later a broadcaster and commentator whose flamboyant style, eccentric personality and encyclopaedic knowledge of sport earned him legendary status in the business by the time of his passing in 1975. But is it fair though to conclude that both Raffie and Dave were from a time when it was not the done thing to publicly challenge officialdom at any level or to engage in the sort of scathing analysis which is now very much par for the course?
Well, times have changed as a matter of necessity because transparency and accountability must be paramount in any public endeavour. Surely that is a fundamental role of contemporary media, sporting or otherwise: holding persons and institutions in the public eye to account. So whether it is Jack Warner and Jeffrey Stollmeyer then or David John-Williams and Ricky Skerritt now, isn’t it the job of the sports journalist/broadcaster/commentator to ask the direct questions, apart from providing the comprehensive coverage of the actual events on the field of play?
I must declare a preference here and say that the work of sports journalists like Lasana Liburd, whose website “Wired 868.com” is the primary source for investigative analysis of sporting issues (not just football, remember the website’s coverage of the gymnastics bacchanal involving Thema Williams and Marisa Dick ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics?) is a necessary counterpoint to the shallow, syrupy public relations-style reporting that too many in the profession still engage in.
It may at times be biased, unbalanced or agenda-driven (to everything there is an agenda anyway), but suspicion and scepticism should be the guiding principles of any journalistic endeavour, even if it comes at the cost of friendships and other potentially profitable relationships.
Dave Lamy will certainly be remembered as a giant of his time. These though are very different times.