Even if you aren’t an AFL fan, there is a chance you have heard of Melbourne Demons footballer Heritier Lumumba (formerly known as Harry O’Brien). Born in Rio de Janeiro to Brazilian and Congolese parents, Lumumba previously played for the biggest sporting club in the land – Collingwood Football Club – and has repeatedly stood against boof-head footy culture to publicly advocate for political and social justice issues.
A quick Google search will give you a flavour of Lumumba’s last years at Collingwood. He challenged Collingwood over perceived inaction around a gay slur graffitied in the players’ rooms and openly criticised club president Eddie McGuire for his racist comments about Aboriginal player Adam Goodes. In a somewhat bizarre farewell speech he thanked the club for allowing him to find the true meaning of his name: “the prince, the one who will hold the last laugh, and is gifted”.
In a recent The Age article, Lumumba praised his new football home, the Melbourne Football Club, for judging on his actions rather than the things it may have heard. Interestingly, Lumumba observed that “over the last two years I lost a bit of control over my personal narrative, so I feel as though comments externally did control the way I am viewed publicly”.
We all – whether as individuals or businesses – live an implicit narrative. John Hagel, co-author of The Power of Pull, believes few of us have made the effort to actually articulate our own personal narrative. Doing so, Hagel says, represents a deep source of insight into whether our narrative reflects who we want to be, as well as amplifies the impact we can make. According to Hagel, an effective personal narrative can help us focus on the opportunities ahead, increase leverage and accelerate our learning by bringing us together with others.
Lumumba, it seems, is not only aware of the value of a personal narrative but also the ongoing nurturing it requires. While Lumumba’s behaviour in his last few years at Collingwood may have been driven by the purest ideals, the value in his personal narrative was a lost through a scattergun, abrasive and at times naïve approach to public expression. As part of recalibrating his narrative, Lumumba has shut down his social media and reduced media interviews. However, at some point it would be wise for Lumumba to reclaim his voice – once he feels he has the poise and clarity to do so in a manner that serves rather than diminishes him.
The good news for Lumumba is he has already accumulated significant brand equity: associations such as intelligence, courage, deep thinker and a concern for others readily spring to mind. From this solid base it won’t be long until he returns to building one of the more compelling personal narratives in contemporary Australian public life.