“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” – Nelson Mandela
These were the words once spoken by Nelson Mandela and are considered to be one of the most thoughtful explanations with regard to the transformative capabilities of sports. He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked it too. Mandela’s greatest illustration of this sentiment was exhibited through his appearance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa.
After enduring 27 years in prison, Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa’s post-apartheid era in 1994. Despite the new laws abolishing segregation, racial tensions remained. It took Mandela’s appearance at the Rugby match between South Africa’s Springboks, a nearly all-white team and a symbol of oppression, and New Zealand’s All Blacks, to initiate the healing of a country. The actions of Mandela, who wore a green Springbok jersey to the match, were so remarkable and significant, the movie Invictus starring Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, was created to show the power of sport and its role in leading a nation from segregation into democracy.
At the 2009 ESPY Awards, ESPN told this story, complete with interviews from Springbok players. I dug up the footage. Watch the moving video below.
Today is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. Internationally, his birthday is recognized as Mandela Day, a call to action for all of us to partake in honoring and preserving his legacy. In light of the George Zimmerman verdict, many of us have asked ourselves what actions we can take to uplift our communities and unify our nation. I know I have. Actually, my self-analysis is constant but it became more urgent when premature reports of Mandela’s imminent death surfaced. As I reflected on the magnitude of his influence, I was reminded of this great speech, and planned on posting it then, but never did. Instead, I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to honor him, his life’s work, and selfless contributions today.
Happy birthday, Madiba. Your life has been a gift to all of humanity. Thank you.