There are certain names when mentioned in the Liberian sports circle conjure memories of ecstasy and appreciation. Names like James Salinsa Debbah, George Oppong Weah, Thomas Kojo, and Sam Chebli are among such individuals. The current crop of players with memorable mention includes Anthony Laffor, William Jebor, Francis Doe, Sekou Jabateh, Patrick Wleh, Zah Krangar, Solomon Grimes, among others. Like the James Debbah and George Weah group, these players are accorded a great deal of respect because of their skills and their commitment to play for the national soccer team.
They are also appreciated because they were (the former ones) and are (the current ones) often called on to defend the nation against their opponents. With its emotional nature, soccer plays an important role in our appreciation for players who use their exceptional performances to achieve victory against their opponents; and because of that, everyone including sports journalists show them respect and honor. Sports journalists’ role includes heaping praises and describing the players’ skills during and after games. Hence there is a special relationship that exists between players and sports journalists. Both respect each other and the problem comes when a journalist shows an unbalanced appreciation of an athlete’s performance in a particular game. The last statement also applies to member of the technical team.
Being human, managers or coaches expect sports journalists to understand the strenuous nature of their job and show some appreciation, even in the worst of times. That also goes for the fans, too. Because many countries are making headway in developing and winning games, national or club teams that are beaten in competitions are, many say, unfairly criticized by the public and sports journalists. The euphoria that characterizes the annual County Sports Meet is one of the enduring elements of sport’s ability to elevate emotion beyond compare. When teams are beaten, not only the players and the fans or sports journalists, but also the technical staff also become disappointed, and at important matches, they lose appetite and are unable to sleep. Many are reported to have wept bitterly, and everyone who has attended a soccer match can attest that players are found crying at the end of defeats in crucial matches. The poor results have caused respected technical managers or coaches to be insulted and assaulted by soccer fans, and sports journalists have taken a field day to make derogatory remarks about coaches and players’ performances, with some in the past resulting into assaults.
And this brings me to the recently reported assault on sports journalist Danesius Marteh by national coach James Salinsa Debbah immediately at the end of a radio sports program (on August 26). While efforts are being worked out to resolve the case, the fact that it happened at all demands some examination. I am sure Salinsa can remember when George Weah was the technical director of the national team, Lone Star, and can remember the insults and accusations leveled against Weah when Liberia lost that crucial game to Ghana’s Black Stars right here in Monrovia. In fact, Debbah should be reminded that “uneasy is the head that wears the crown” and therefore as national coach he will come under intense pressure, knowing the kind of gullible society we have, whenever things don’t go right.
Admittedly, resorting to physical violence is not the way to go, but as a national coach his critics, including sports journalists, will continue so long as growth seems to elude the national team. While I am against any “unfair criticism” when a coach thinks he has done his best, Debbah must nevertheless develop a thick skin to absorb all unfair punches from all quarters without resorting to brutal defense, that is if he wants to make coaching a career.