Jon E. Garrett
Writing the future of journalism one post at a time


August 6, 2012

Usain Bolt, redefining lazy and the N-word

I don’t care how you spell it, in which context you’re using it, how many black friends you have – or if you yourself are black – I am not your nigger.

Usain Bolt Olympics Celebration

Usain Bolt celebrates after his record-breaking 100m victory at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Barring the reinstitution of African-American slavery in the United States, I never will be.

If you want to address me in some other way besides my given name – I can be your boy, your homie or even your main man if you’re still wearing elevator shoes and butterfly collars.

By the way I’m pretty sure Usain Bolt is not your nigger either. I’m not saying there are not those in the world whom he lets address him as such with fondness – I just doubt they are 16-year-olds in Central Texas who spend more time at Taco Bell than on the track.

I’m not mad at you, though, kids. My work, and disposition, have led me to be around your culture enough to get glimpses of understanding of it. Heck, back when I was coming up I’m pretty sure I thought Carl Lewis was mine – even if I never yelled it out loud like some of the others massing at TV screens whenever we had a chance during his historic quest to equal Jesse Owens at the 1984 Olympics.

Still, whether used with good or bad intent, it’s time to ditch the word from our daily vernacular. Too many misunderstandings and mixed messages have resulted for it to remain in use outside of historic, literary, and or artistic endeavors.

Besides, if Bolt really is… your guy, you’re only hurting him if you’re using that term to describe your affection for him and his abilities. It’s bad enough that bolt had a self-admitted “lazy” streak early on in his career. That combined with a string of injuries, had some like ESPN’s Skip Bayless thinking the fastest man to ever walk, run or generally mill about the Earth was washed up at the age of 25. Using a word to describe him that invokes images of lethargy, among much worse things, is not a way to celebrate his accomplishments.

Bayless was among the millions awed by his record-breaking time of 9.63 in the 100-meter dash Sunday to cement his title of world’s fastest man, but perhaps for different reasons than most.

“This is the reason I was awed,” Bayless told his cast mates on the four-letter networks “ESPN First Take” the day after the historic event. “I was expecting him to lose.”

Such a perspective may seem unfathomable to the many who wondered whether anyone could touch the superstar going into the event. Certainly there were some who felt Bolt was running more against his own previous records than his opponents, excluding injury or a poor start.

But the commentator did offer his reasons. “I thought that because Bolt doesn’t seem to be the most dedicated young man that he might be a little bit off his game, he might not be in the best of shape, he might have celebrated a little too long off his last gold medal [to win],” he said, offering high marks for Bolt for overcoming what he called the most loaded field in the history of the event despite his reputation.

Not exactly high praise for a guy who has spent the majority of his life on the track, with many of the most damning incidents of laziness and tomfoolery – such as hiding in the back of a van as a practical joke when he was 14 in 2001 when he was supposed to be preparing for the 200m finals at the CARIFTA Games (where he set championship records in both the 200m and 400m) and a general preference for basketball, fast food and Jamaican club life over training – taking place before his 21st birthday. By his 22nd birthday he had won his first two Olympic gold medals in record-breaking performances and was headed for his third to tie Lewis as the only men to win three sprinting events at a single Olympics. Ultimately he became the only man to set world records in all three at a single Olympics.

That’s the kind of “lazy” most parents would love to see in a kid of the same age, never mind the 35-year-old crashing on the couch with the dog while he works on his latest technology start-up amidst repeat viewings of “Tosh.0” and the “Daily Show.”

Bolt put it best in the article that helped cement his lazy reputation in the first place.

“I was pretty lazy but I’ve learned over the years that you can’t be lazy if you want to be the best at your sport,” he told the Daily Mail in 2010. ‘I’m still lazy – with the fact that I can’t be bothered to do things sometimes – but I get it done because I still want to be the best.”

It’s a quote it seems all too many failed to read to the end, and one his competitors know the truth of. Whatever you may think of Bolt, his work ethic and his eating habits – in the end he puts in the work to reach his goals. That’s why even if he never again approaches his now almost mythic world record of 9.58 in the 100 the Jamaican, when it comes to sprinters, will always be, “My main man.”


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Jon E. Garrett



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