English: Yohan Blake during 2011 World champio...
English: Yohan Blake during 2011 World championships Athletics in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Double Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake has used his Facebook page to address people who have been criticizing his long nails, nails that the British tabloid The Daily Mail referred to as “freakishly long.”

Blake, with the somewhat petulant tone we’ve been hearing from athletes finding themselves burnt by the social media space they thought they owned, states that he is addressing the explanation to his “true fans.”

“ …my nails grow VERY fast for some reason. Almost as fast as I can run! Many years ago, long before this beast nickname came about, so long ago that I can’t even remember when or why, I got it into my head that if I cut them during competition I won’t run well. It is my superstition. There are many things we athletes do to alleviate the huge pressures
that come with competing. Some of them just don’t make any sense. But we do them anyway! This is what I do. Soon after competition I cut them and look pretty “normal” again.

I know who I am. I know what my values are. And I know how proud I feel to have represented my country at the highest level and to the best of my ability. I am who I think I am. I am not who other people think I am supposed to be.

So I would like to thank my true fans and sponsors for accepting me for who I am and I will continue to do my best for you.”

Although he didn’t address it there, Blake is also being criticized by some for his cartoonish “beast” poses, when he claws at the air and grimaces, that he clearly thinks enhance the Beast nickname he was given because of the ferocity with which he approaches training. There are many Jamaicans who think the poses look silly and that Blake would be better off dropping them, along with cutting his nails.

There are some similarities with the criticisms of the gold medal winning African American gymnast Gabby Douglas, by fellow black African Americans who thought her hair didn’t look good, and say she needs to realize that she is “reppng” for all black women on the international stage.

Douglas was bewildered, asking, reasonably, why people were focused on her hair when she had just made history. Her mother later explained the tremendous stresses that training puts on black hair, and said they had tried several strategies to deal with it. Douglas is now sporting a glamourous new hairstyle, which is inevitably attracting more press.

So why do we care? And does commenting on Blake’s nails or Douglas’s hair make people any less “true fans’?

Douglas’s issue is wrapped up in the complicated relationship black women have with their hair, if we are honest. We haven’t gotten over the hair thing. But she is a little removed from us.  It’s easier to look at the Douglas story and shake our heads at the critics’ pettiness.

Blake, now, he’s close to home. He belongs to us. Are we who criticize him also being petty?

Let’s be honest. Many Jamaicans have long felt that there hasn’t been enough attention to grooming our athletes for the international spotlight, to ensure that they shine off track, as well as on. Some of what you’re seeing is  a reflection of that. Is Blake making a fool of himself? Will he become an object of international ridicule?  Is he representing himself, and yes, Jamaica in the best possible light? There are genuine concerns about that, and expressing them, Mr.  Blake, doesn’t necessarily mean that the Jamaicans who do so do not fully appreciate your tremendous talent and achievements on the track.

Of course, there is another element. There have always been, and will always be, petty, spiteful people who make mean-spirited comments about anyone in the public spotlight. Social media has now given these people a direct line to the athletes or anyone else they want to “dis.”

Yohan Blake et al. need to learn to differentiate between well-intentioned criticism, whether you agree with it or not, and spiteful, snide comments, which our mothers used to tell us, quite rightly, to ignore.

The criticisms, for instance, of Yohan Blake’s and Usain Bolt’s behavior during the national anthem while on the medal podium at the World Championships last year was the kind of criticism that they should have, and clearly did, take on board. Bear in mind that even then, there was a set of people telling critics to “leave de yute dem alone” and suggesting that people who had achieved at that level should not be criticized for such behavior. That’s rubbish,  and “true fans” like that are the ones Blake should be ignoring.

He might also want to think carefully about his antics in front of the international press. Sure, Usain’s

Sprinting legend Usain Bolt pictured in Brunel...
Sprinting legend Usain Bolt pictured in Brunel University’s indoor athletics Centre. Usain used Brunel as a European training base prior to the 2009 Berlin Athletics World Championships. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

antics are celebrated by all the world, and people everywhere are doing the Bolt pose. Will they follow suit with Blake? They might. But they might not. He needs to remember how fickle the international press can be, and carefully consider the persona he wants the public, and potential sponsors, to see. There may be a thin line between playful, which is how Bolt is generally seen, and ridiculous.

My opinion? I can see Blake putting out a line of Beast tee-shirts etc with all the Beast grimaces, and I can see them taking off. I wouldn’t buy them, but they wouldn’t be aimed at me. I don’t like the fingernails, and to those who say they never noticed them, that’s a little ridiculous when he brandishes them in front of his face during photo shoots. You can’t escape them. But I don’t argue with people’s superstitions. If he says that’s what he needs to do when he is in competition, I have nothing more to say. After all, I have superstitions of my own. And although I don’t like them, I can shrug and move on.

His poses etc.also look a little silly to me, but I don’t really care, and again, I’m not the demographic he’s aiming for. His comments to reporters about coming from Mars also sound juvenile. Having said all that, he is a grown man and has a management team. As a Jamaican, I mainly ask that he shows respect for the national symbols and understands time and place, and what behavior is appropriate when.

From a business point of view, I would hope that Blake and his management team are seriously assessing the public reaction to his image and comments, and making sure they are working for him. After all, that’s how you build a brand.