‘COOL’ RESPONSE FROM BOBSLEIGH ICON OVER CONTROVERSIAL FLOAT
O NE of the athletes who inspired the hit film Cool Runnings says he understands why people would be offended after a carnival float was accused of being “racist” after the people on it painted their faces black, but added that in his opinion “there are more important issues”.
The Aberaeron Carnival, which was held on Monday, hit the headlines after a group of men on a float wore black bodypaint and Lycra suits to dress up as characters from the film Cool Runnings for the parade.
The men sparked a police probe after complaints were made to officers about their outfits.
Devon Harris, now Secretary General of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation, said he didn’t think the men meant any harm by dressing up but said he understood why people would be offended.
And he added that he was “flattered” people still look up to him.
He said: “I have young adult kids who were born and raised in America and I discussed this with them, and they have very different views from mine.
“I understand given the history of blackface in the theatre why people would be offended. I didn’t go for that.”
He added: “When somebody does that you have to then figure out or ask yourself is this hatred or bigotry or someone having fun?
If you conclude it’s hatred and bigotry, then you have a reason to be upset. But there are more important issues.”
Devon had previously spoken to Wales Online about the incident and said: This has happened a number of times. I’m not naive. There’s racism.
“There’s lots of mean and bigoted people all over the world.
“This particular incident in Wales I think it’s a reach too far, but that’s only my opinion. I know that lots of people are going to not be happy with my opinion.
“I think we have to be wise enough to determine whether this particular incident was meant or done with bigotry and hatred in mind.
“I don’t believe (it was) on the face of it.”
When asked if the incident had been blown out of proportion, he said: “It’s possible. Race relations and racism, it’s a very emotional topic.
“I’m trying to take a dispassionate approach.
“Those guys dressing up as the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team, painting their faces black – was that meant to display hatred and bigotry? I guess you have a right to be upset if your answer is ‘yes’. My perception is the answer is ‘no’.”
Cool Runnings was the story of four Jamaican athletes who dream of becoming Jamaica’s first ever bobsleigh team to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
But Devon, who went on to compete and captain in two more Winter Olympics – in 1992 in Albertville, France, and 1998 in Nagano, Japan, actually started off as an aspiring track and field star.
His aim was to represent Jamaica in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 in the 800m and 1500m events but that didn’t happen.
Instead, he went to military school, studying at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and became a military officer. He served in the officer corps of the Jamaica Defence Force until December 1992 when he retired as a Captain.
But, with the encouragement of his Colonel, Alan Douglas, he replied to an advert in an army publication called Force Orders that called for people to “undergo rigorous and dangerous training” to represent Jamaica in the Winter Olympics.
He went to the team selections and had the fastest push off time. The rest is history.
Now Devon works as a motivational speaker with his charity, the Keep On Pushing Foundation, which supports the education of children in disadvantaged areas around the globe.
He also wrote a children’s book, Yes, I Can!, as well as taking on the role of Secretary General of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation, developing the next generation of bobsledders.
“It is something I’m passionate about,” he said.
Looking back on his time on the team and the impact he had, Devon said he was “flattered” that people still look up to him – even if it was on a carnival float.
He said: “People are still enthralled by the story – that’s what I chose to focus on – the fact that we had this prolific and positive impact.”
The Cool Runnings float at Aberaeron Carnival which caused controversy and a police probe because the men on it wore black body paint