Two Africans in a United State
Liberian Weah Is a Role Model, Hero to Ghanaian-Born Adu
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2004; Page D01
As D.C. United's practice session ended yesterday, Freddy Adu peered across the RFK Stadium training grounds and immediately recognized the spotlessly dressed figure approaching the team.
"I just saw the suit," Adu said later with teenage giddiness, "and I knew it was George Weah."
Largely unrecognized in the United States, the Liberian-born Weah, 37, is considered one of the legends of international soccer and among the most famous athletes in African history. In 1995, Weah was not only named the best player in Africa, he was honored as Europe's top performer for his scoring exploits with AC Milan and the world player of the year.
Years later, he was declared the player of the century in Africa.
Although Adu left his native Ghana when he was 8, Weah's mystique followed him to America.
"Of course, I knew who he was!" Adu, 15, said, when asked if he was too young to remember Weah in his golden years. "He was one of my heroes. He's one of the heroes for all of Africa."
But admiration for Weah goes well beyond his performances for Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco, Marseille and Chelsea. It's his humanitarian work in war-torn Liberia that has brought equal acclaim. He has spent millions to help the rebuilding efforts and has teamed with UNICEF and the United Nations to improve life for an impoverished nation scarred by a 14-year conflict.
In the late 1990s, amid the fighting, Weah -- pronounced WAY-ah -- single-handedly financed the national team's World Cup qualifying efforts, setting up training camp in neighboring countries, paying his teammates' travel expenses and purchasing shoes and uniforms. He was the team's benefactor, star player and coach. The Lone Star, as the team is known, fell just short of a berth in the 1998 World Cup in France -- the closest Weah would ever come to the sport's premier event.
His desire to help his country came at a price, though. When he suggested in 1996 that the United Nations should move into Liberia, his home in the capital, Monrovia, was burned to the ground, his vehicles were stolen and many of his relatives were attacked.
Nonetheless, his tireless work continued.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela has called him "African Pride," and Liberians address him as "the Godfather" and "Wonderful."
Weah, who also had a home in New York before moving to Miami, will be presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN next week in Los Angeles -- an honor previously bestowed upon Pat Tillman, Muhammad Ali, Jim Valvano and Billie Jean King, among others.
Yesterday, Weah came to Washington to address United's players about personal responsibility and helping the needy. After watching the last part of practice, he walked to the center of the field and spoke for about 10 minutes.
"Sports is a unifying force and we have a responsibility to help all people," he told them. "We have to show the love to everyone."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company