With the passing of Nelson Mandela tributes of his extraordinary life are being recalled and celebrated. His life is one of hope, struggle and perseverance. I am not a political historian nor do I claim to be. However, I do think that Mandela’s story and how he dealt with being wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years serves as an example to everyone to learn from, including athletes.
Upon his release from prison, Mandela fostered no hate, no bitterness and no self pity for losing these precious years behind bars. His story and his legacy will be forever tied to his confinement. It is normal to dream of a world where Mandela had the opportunity to impact the world from the other side of the prison bars. Unfortunately, we can only imagine that world.
Considering Mandela’s unbelievable circumstances and the fact that upon his release many South Africans, on both sides, sought revenge and civil war, it was Mandela who remarkably kept both sides from doing so.
Mandela, disrespected by the white South African government, could have expressed bitterness and hate for his white oppressors but he did the exact opposite. His compassion, leadership and love for his country was truly amazing.
Although no athletic contest can compare to Mandela’s plight and South Africa’s struggle for democracy, in an age in sports where athletes feel “punked” and/or “disrespected” by opponents, coaches, contract offers, fines, etc., I would ask these athletes to reflect on Mandela’s life and his personal suffering the next time they feel wronged.
It kind of puts things in perspective.
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