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A Good Man In Africa
S.L. Price
April 16, 2001
As coach and star of Liberia's national soccer team and as a benefactor to legions of his countrymen, George Weah is a rare ray of hope in a poor and violent place
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April 16, 2001

A Good Man In Africa

As coach and star of Liberia's national soccer team and as a benefactor to legions of his countrymen, George Weah is a rare ray of hope in a poor and violent place

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They know: No one has given more of himself to Liberia over the last decade. Weah, who earned more than $15 million during his prime years with AC Milan, paid close to $2 million out of his own pocket to keep the Lone Star alive after the civil war began in 1990. He moved the Lone Star's training camp to nearby Ivory Coast and became a one-man football association, supplying jerseys, cleats and equipment and paying the players' salaries. After Taylor's men burned his house in 1996, Weah only intensified his efforts on the team's behalf. That May he sent someone through rebel lines with money to charter a bus for the Lone Star to travel from Ivory Coast to a game in Accra, Ghana. That October, Weah bought tickets to fly in 10 Liberian players from Europe, chartered a plane for $47,000 to fly the team to a game in Zaire and paid everyone in the 27-man delegation a per diem of anywhere from $400 to $1,000. Of the 25 players on the current Lone Star, 10 landed overseas contracts because Weah recommended them, paid for their flights to tryouts, put his name on the line for them. A half dozen other Liberian players owe their overseas careers to Weah.

Then there are the stories about how Weah sent one Liberian he had never met to the U.S. for medical treatment; how he kept handing money to patients in the hospital in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast ($1,000 here, $1,000 there); and how, whenever Weah returned to Liberia for Christmas, he would withdraw $20,000 from the bank in $20s and $50s. Then he would stand at the front door of his house, and, Clar says, "people would come, and George would give them Christmas."

"He's been designated by God," says Liberian striker Frank Seator. "George has assisted millions of people, indirectly and directly. We have ministers here who have money, and they don't give anybody one cent. But he takes his time, his money, to go out to the people. It's not 'Come to my house on Monday, I'll give you money.' He goes to them and gives money. I'm telling you: He's designated. You can't get over how he lives his life."

Asked about this, Weah says only that the Liberian people paid the taxes that paid for him to improve as a player, especially when an earlier government sent him to Brazil to polish his skills. He currently supports more than 150 people in Liberia but figures that's the least he can do. "Everything I have, I owe to the Liberian people," Weah says. "I give back what they gave me."

Hoover Amos, one of Weah's security men, says many Liberians have a different explanation. "My father says George has the spirit of Jesus Christ," Amos says. "He calls George 'Wonderful.' Anytime George is about to come to the country, my father says, 'Oh, Lord, Jesus Christ is coming. Wonderful is coming.' "

Everyone agrees that Weah could be elected president in a landslide. He insists he has no interest in politics—Weah's associates say the letter Jack the Rebel brandished was a fabrication—but he is well aware of his power. A few years ago Weah told a U.S. newspaper, "I could take out the warlords.... My followers could take over the country," but he said that would only create more bloodshed. Besides, Clar has forbidden him even to think about running for office. "I think he would be assassinated," she says.

In 1997 Taylor ran for president—serenaded by his infamous campaign song, "You kill my ma, you kill my pa, [but] I will vote for you!"—and received 75% of the vote in an election that international observers, including Jimmy Carter, declared clean. Today, with most of his wartime rivals exiled, bought off or killed, Taylor is unchallenged. So it is that Africa's oldest republic, a country founded by former U.S. slaves seeking freedom, has only two poles of power left: a king and a dictator, one prompting love and the other fear, each uneasily feeding the other's dream. Taylor needs a winning Lone Star to divert people's attention from his regime's misdeeds. Weah needs Taylor's support, or at least benign neglect, to get to the World Cup.

A week like this, however, allows Weah barely enough time to think that far ahead. On Tuesday morning, between running Lone Star practices, tending to his family and stopping by the courier service to pick up the team's uniforms, Weah begins a grueling round of visits to Monrovia girls' schools. He plunges into one classroom after another, telling girls of various ages that he would put up money if they would begin playing soccer, if they would stay away from boys, or at least use condoms.

"Nobody's educating our girls to protect themselves," Weah says before one group. "Please," he tells another, "I want to help." The next day he tells another class, "You are the people of tomorrow. Forget about boys. Boys are trouble. Boys make mothers and don't want to see them." Weah promises the girls he'll come to their games, help coach them, play with them. Please, he says.

No one asks why he's so impassioned about the subject. This kind of mission is expected from Weah, so he doesn't feel the need to tell the girls what he learned when he arrived in Liberia this time. He doesn't tell them that on Monday night, only 2� weeks after he'd learned that his 16-year-old sister, Karmah, had had a baby out of wedlock, someone told him that a teenage cousin of his had given birth and begun to bleed and never stopped. He doesn't say that the funeral will be on Saturday, just after morning practice.

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