Yesterday very early morning, I was unfortunate enough to be in the same room as a tirade against any sort of heroes: Ugandan sports heroes to be exact from a small philistine (I expected that) and from a failed or frustrated ex-athlete (I haven’t yet been able to ascertain which, never mind that his education was paid for by the State and that the opportunities that opened up his mind were funded by the same ‘silly’ programmes he was denigrating). So riled up was I that I was forced to undertake the first of my investigations into the nature and fate of Ugandan sports heroes (a subject I had skidded away from till that morning) but more of that later in Uganda’s leading daily. Buy the edition.
I just wanted to state here and now that I would not even be doing this were it not that when I was growing up I had a couple of heroes. That what I’m doing now even today, jaded and cynical as I’m, there are still a couple of people out there, people in my life and people whose work I look upon and feel strengthened and encouraged to continue in my own unpaid work, who inspire me. Heroes. And that one of my first heroes, and a hero to me to this day though he is no longer among the living and during his last years existed them out in disgrace was a sports hero. The kind of hero that those masquerading charlatans were trying to make little of yesterday morning.
He made mistakes, yes. He drunk (I suspect, I have no proof), he loved many women (that is totally okay with me, a big heart is necessary in a hero), he was careless with his money (a hero must be generous not just with his talent but his time too to inspire more heroes after he or she is gone), he was emotional (you can never be a hero if you’re ruled solely by your intellect, be a stone cold library omnivorous academician then), he was religious (all heroes are though to the superficial observer it may not seem so).
It was a memorable afternoon and evening (so memorable was it that to this day I still cannot recall who facilitated that outing) seeing him on the sports field in then Uganda’s only reputable national stadium—Nakivubo or World War 1 Memorial Stadium—speed and skill and force and beauty in motion, in full flight with a football at his feet bearing down goal that for the first and only time in my life I ever considered becoming a sportsman. Right before my eyes I saw again and again, to the delight of slum dwelling and shilling empty pocket masses (the only audience worth writing for, the only ones who will come when the times are hard and you’re down on your luck, the pallbearers who will buy your coffin when you don’t have a kanzu to be buried in) that in their unconfined joy would not sit down in their seats applauding this beauty, masterpieces being created selflessly and joyously. I was a boy, I was a child. I forgot myself, I wept. I leapt up and cheered. I wanted to know who that man was. His number 9 became my favorite football shirt number. His face was the only face in a Uganda Canes football team of stars I looked. His name was Majid Musisi (1967-2005).