As we contemplate and celebrate the monumental impact that Nelson Mandela had on all of mankind, we at the Jackie Robinson Foundation mourn the loss of his presence among us. A champion of reconciliation and freedom, President Mandela showed remarkable strength and grace even during the 27 years he remained isolated behind prison bars.
Nelson Mandela was an athlete for most of his life but, unlike Jackie Robinson, President Mandela was never given an opportunity to take part in his own country’s national pastime that ultimately played a significant role in leading his country out of segregation and into democracy. One of many depictions of President Mandela’s tremendous courage and leadership played out on a rugby field nearly 50 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in the United States.
In 1995, the year South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, Mr. Mandela publicly embraced the South African national team, a team that was loved by white society but hated by South African blacks because of its history of excluding blacks. On opening day of the final World Cup match that year, President Mandela walked onto the field before a crowd of 65,000 mostly white fans, and, wearing the green Springbok jersey that was once worn by his apartheid jailers at the infamous Robben Island, greeted the players and the crowd. The shocked fans were quiet at first, and then began to chant his name, symbolically rebuffing the institution of apartheid that had prevailed in the sport and in the nation.
Nelson Mandela’s generous spirit will resonate forever. We hold fast to the lessons he taught us and resolve to impart and promote the values for which he sacrificed so much to and among the young Scholars we serve.