Bob Marley statue and Usain Bolt.(Getty Images)

“With apologies to all you reggae fans, I think Bolt has even outdistanced Marley,” Costas said on NBC after Bolt won his third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter dash.

This was all part of a bloviated attempt to make Americans care about Bolt beating an American, Justin Gatlin, through over-the-top hagiography. Of course, American sports fans and all other fans of the Olympics mostly love Bolt already (unless they hate him). Bringing Marley into it felt trite and unnecessary.

Thankfully, Costas was speaking only of fame, not influence or impact. Still, he missed the mark for three reasons:

1. Marley was much more than a music legend.

Costas’ jab about “reggae fans” seemed to suggest that those are the people who would care. He was the voice of the people, even the voice of revolution. Marley’s group, The Wailers, was formed a year after Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom. Over the next 18 years, Marley was the most prominent and one of the most important voices in the new country.

No moment signified this more than Marley’s One Love Peace Concert, when he brought leaders from Jamaica’s warring political factions together on stage and made them join hands while he played. Music rarely makes this kind of impact:

Michael Manley, Bob Marley & Edward Seaga
Michael Manley, Bob Marley & Edward Seaga

Which American singer could bring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on stage like that? Marley was a unifier, which is why Jamaica’s then-prime minister Edward Seaga (who was one of the leaders on stage there) said at Marley’s funeral in 1981, “Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”

Bolt is a great, great, great, great athlete. Some things are bigger than sports.

2. Marley has a bunch of still-very-famous children.

Let’s get practical. Sharon, Cedella, Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, Ky-Mani and Damian Marley are or were all reggae stars to varying degrees. Ziggy, Stephen and Damian are actually pretty big deals in the reggae world, though being Bob Marley’s kid almost guarantees that stature anyway.

Rohan Marley was a football player at the University of Miami and has five children with American music legend Lauryn Hill.

Heck, Cedella Marley even designed the uniforms worn by Jamaica to the 2012 Games. Here’s a photo of her with Bolt, via Getty Images:

Cedella Marley And Bolt
Cedella Marley And Bolt

These are very famous people in Jamaica. Is it fathomable that there might be someone out there who knows Damian Marley but not Bob? Sure. But it seems unlikely. How many people know Layla Ali but not her father?

3. He’s Bob freaking Marley.

Let’s take the Muhammad Ali analogy a step further. Ali will always be remembered in American culture because he’s Muhammad Ali. He’s mentioned in TV shows, songs and political speeches.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali

Imagine growing up in Jamaica and not knowing who Marley is, despite constant cultural reminders. The 70th anniversary of his birth, just last year, included a massive concert in his honor. His kids are on the radio. His songs are quoted everywhere. You learn about him in school. He has a statue outside the stadium in Kingston where Bolt made his name.

Marley has 74.9 million Facebook fans, by the way. Bolt has 17.5 million.

The kicker here is that even Bolt knows the deal.

  • That was from 2012, of course. Bolt, in a pre-recorded interview this year with Costas, acquiesced to the broadcaster’s line of questioning and said that he might be as famous as Marley now. It’s true that time whittles at fame, that there are probably an astonishing number of Americans who have never heard of Elvis Presley or Jesse Owens.

Maybe at this very moment, everyone in Jamaica knows who Bolt is because he is in the news right now. Maybe only 95 percent of Jamaicans at this very moment know who Marley is. So yes, maybe today, on Aug. 14, 2016, Usain Bolt is more famous in Jamaica than Bob Marley.


But this is a moment, and it’s an amazing moment for Bolt, and it should be recognized as such. There was no reason for Costas to soil it with a way-over-the-top comparison to Marley, a man whose legacy lives on and strong 35 years after his death.

Bolt ran the 100m dash in 9.81 seconds Sunday. His favorite Marley song lasts 2 minutes, 45 seconds.