Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What's it take to be Colombian of the Year?

El Tiempo: 'James, the personality of 2014.'
Colombian media has anointed football star James Rodriguez as 'Colombian of the year.' And Rodriguez sure is good at kicking round objects between upright sticks.

However, it is a sad commentary on human priorities that Rodriguez is now probably the second-
El Espectador: 'James, fortune and God.'
most-famous Colombian, behind only cocaine king Pablo Escobar. My Google search for "James Rodriguez" Real Madrid produced 16.4 million hits, while "Juan Manuel Santos" presidente Colombia produced 7.8 million hits and "Gabriel Garcia Marquez" only a pathetic 1.2 million. (For whatever it's worth, I bet that 100 years from now they'll rank in reverse order fame-wise.)

I'm waiting for someone to explain to me why running behind a ball - across the ocean in Spain, no less - is more important than, say, well - almost anything else.

What does the media's deification of a sports star say about its respect for science, politics, business, teaching, medicine and all those other human endeavors which produce so much to benefit us, but receive little attention or reward?

Gloria Barreto defends riot police from rioters.
(Photo: El Tiempo)
And, even among prominent athletes, Rodriguez doesn't stand out in much besides athletic ability. He hasn't excelled in philanthropy, even tho he probably leaves enough loose euros behind in his dry cleaning to solve the child malnourishment problem in a lot of Colombian towns, or buy schoolbooks for schools in Ciudad Bolivar.

Rodriguez could employ his fame and the huge admiration he commands (justifiably or not) from Colombians of all kinds - to bring his people together to find peace, stop violence, study harder, or embrace any number of causes, but he hasn't bothered to. Instead, Rodriguez serves unintentionally as an unfortunate role model: How many boys and young men have slackened their studies and focused on futbol because they expect to become the next James Rodriguez?

Rather than Rodriguez, how about someone like Gloria Barreto? She's the humble woman who had come to downtown Bogotá (albeit in August 2013) to complain about her water bill when she found herself in the midst of a riot in which youths hurled chairs, tables and rocks at police, who cowered behind their shields. Barreto, a short, apparently frail woman, placed herself between the police and attackers, her arms spread protectively. The rioters paused their attack only long enough to pull her away. A few moments later, an anti-riot tank arrived firing tear gas canisters, and the youths fled.

But when it comes to the 'most important Colombian of 2014', love him or hate him, it's hard not to name Pres. Juan Manuel Santos. He got reelected and carried forward the peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, which appear likely to end Colombia's half-century of armed conflict. In fact, the FARC ended the year with the announcement of their first-ever unilateral cease fire - a milestone in Colombian history, even if it doesn't last.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Unknown said...

I think it is not fair to judge James, you may not be aware of this, but Colombians who have international recognitions at sports NEVER receive any support from Colombian government. They usually come from poor families and have to make enormous efforts to succeed and when this happens Colombian President says he is proud of them as if it was an achievement of government policies, so James and others have fighted hard to get where they are now.

Miguel said...

Hi Marlen,

Thanks for your comment.

Certainly, James has worked hard to get where he is. Whether or not the Colombian government has helped him, I'm sure that lots of individual Colombians (and foreigners) have. And, presumably, he's proud of being Colombian. So, now that he's rich and famous, why not give back to his country via philanthropy or by using his fame for a good cause?