The Liberian-born American soccer superstar, Doc Lawson, has for the past several years returned home to impart his vast sporting knowledge and experience to Liberian youth, through the auspices of the Liberia YMCA and his personal financial capacity.
“Uncle Doc,” as he is affectionately called everywhere he has been, was invited several years ago by the Liberia YMCA’s Secretary General Edward Gboe to undertake the erection of a national football academy to train Liberian youth in this most popular of international sports.
The project was interrupted by the Ebola outbreak, which caused most if not all internationally-connected initiatives, including the rehabilitation of Mount Coffee, to be suspended, many for over a year.
Following the defeat of the epidemic, Doc Lawson returned to Liberia, this time with a slightly altered program. Instead of building one academy, he thought to start with small, rotational programs, training the youth in different places. The training included football, kickball and basketball. Some of the areas he has touched include West Point, New Kru Town, Capitol By-Pass, Duport Road; Gbarnga, Bong County; and Kakata, Margibi County.
In order to demonstrate his love for young people and his determination to get them excited about playing sports, he recently organized a football tournament for 400 children on Du Port Road. Each received a medal following the tournament, designed to help them understand that there are rewards for those who take sports seriously. We think this is important because incentives in every human endeavor are critical to success in whatever endeavor is undertaken. The absence of a merit system or the lack of caring or rewards is partly responsible for the backwardness of Liberian sports.
Why do we say that? Most of the present generation of Liberians were not yet born when football giants like Wanibo Toe and George and Garretson Sackor thrilled football fans each time they appeared on the pitch at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium. Wanibo was such an outstanding and so popular a football star that when he unfortunately died, no one in Monrovia had ever seen so big a funeral as his. It turned Monrovia upside down! Everybody was there—the rich, the poor, the high, the low, and even people who had never witnessed a football match. But they had heard about Wanibo Toe and felt they had to be there to pay their last respects to this celebrated football superstar.
But what did Wanibo Toe get out of his brilliant football career? Not much. Today we do not even know where his widow and children are. During those days, and perhaps even today, the football managers lacked the compassion and vision truly to care for football stars. All the managers were interested in was having the footballers show up for practice and winning the games. After that, the footballers were let loose to food, liquor and women. And that was that. No one cared about their education, their dwelling places or their personal wellbeing and that of their families, not even about how they met their daily expenses.
Take George and Garretson Sackor, two brothers, both grandsons of Garretson W. Gibson, the fourteenth President of Liberia. But that did not matter to the football managers. They did not even care that these extraordinarily talented youngsters got a good education, not to speak of any serious reward for their brilliant performance on the football pitch, where over many years they thrilled tens of thousands of football fans.
George and Garretson departed for the United States in the mid-1960s, by which time they had lost their football prime and never made it into the top soccer leagues in that country. At that time, too, soccer was not a big deal in America.
The medals which Doc Lawson awarded to the 400 children at Du Port Road may seem insignificant, since they were many. Yet we strongly believe that these medals had a highly positive impact on these youngsters, for who had ever honored them in such a manner? It must have been the first time any of them, at so young an age, had ever been so honored. The reward for service—service for even showing up for the tournament, is something we consider highly significant.
Should Doc Lawson and all other sports leaders continue to be so creative and compassionate in their dealing with our young—in ways that they and those before them had never before experienced–we believe that the future of sports in Liberia is indeed very bright.