"Sport has the power to change the world!" Simple words from the legendary Nelson Mandela. A great world leader and sports figure died today at the age of 95. Nelson Mandela needs to be remembered as more than just a famous name in history book. When word broke about Mandela's passing news networks around the globe went to cover the story... including ESPN.
As a sports writer I was proud to see ESPN join the ranks of the mighty news networks. I also realized the reason why. Many of the stars in the world of professional sports today were born near, or after, the time when he was released from prison and became a world leader. That means that a large number of fans are too young to know what this man meant to the world.
Mandela was an athlete as well as an activist, politician and leader. It's said that his love for boxing and exercise helped keep him in shape during his 27 years in prison. As an armature boxer he often ran several miles a day, exercised and as dedicated to keeping fit.
From Boxing to Rugby
Then the legend of Mandela and sports began. After becoming president he proudly walked onto the field of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg wearing the green colors of the South African team - the Springboks. Why is this a huge deal? Read on.
Rugby was a favorite sport of the South African white population. It was not for black citizens or athletes. In fact, many people of color considered the green colors of the national team as being a slap in the face. It represented everything bad associated with years of being ruled under a institutionalized racist government.
The match between South Africa and New Zealand had been put in place years before Mandela took office and he was well aware that many people were looking forward to the event. He also realized that he could use the match to pull his country together. Sports could help heal the people.
The Meaning of a Green Jersey Changed
On the day of the match, one Mandela said was the most nervous time of his life, Mandela decided a simple gesture could send a powerful message. Before the match began he walked onto the field to greet players, those in attendance, and those who were following the events on radio and TV.
Silence fell over the crowd as he appeared wearing the hated green colors. The crowd was just under 70,000 people - most of them white. As people noticed his green Springboks jersey they slowly began to realize that his embracing of a National Pastime also meant the willingness to work with anyone to make his country better.
It started slowly, a few voices cheering and chanting. "Nelson, Nelson, Nelson." Soon the entire stadium was filled with cheers and chants in celebration. A small sporting gesture with a huge impact.
Today Nelson Mandela scored his final goal. Once again he had the entire world stop and take notice of how far we've come and how far we all have to go. Oh, South Africa won. They beat New Zealand.
One of the Best Sports Quotes Ever
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."