I've been a player of sports, and a fan of sports for my whole life. There is something about the emotions that it invokes, of commitment, passion and effort. I finally got around to watching my DVR'd version of the 2009 ESPY Awards (from July 2009) and I saw something that reminded me again of how powerful a pull sports has on the human emotional state.
The ESPY Awards bestow a special Arthur Ashe Courage Award every year. This year it went to Nelson Mandela for his embrace of the South African Springboks rugby team in its run to the World Cup title in 1995. In South Africa, rugby was the white man's game, and the Springboks symbolized raw unyielding white power and rule. Black South Africans hated the Springboks.
But Nelson Mandela saw the Springboks as a tool to unite white and black South Africans under a common purpose. And he used it extremely effectively, as shown in the video clip from the 2009 ESPY Awards show honoring Mandela with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his wholehearted endorsement of the Springboks in the 1995 World Cup.
Watching this video reminded me of a surreal moment I had experienced while visiting South Africa in 1993, as part of a cultural and business exploration trip while I was in business school. I was in a sports bar in Cape Town and there was a poster of Michael Jordan on the wall.
Even though Cape Town was the most racially integrated city in South Africa (and certainly had the best nightlife!), I did not see a single black person in the bar. I was in a social conversation with a group of white South African men and women and every one of them worshipped Michael Jordan. It was quite shocking to hear them gush over Jordan in a country where most black-skinned people wouldn't even be given the time of day.
There is something about sports that carries the power to elevate and energize the soul. It certainly does it for me. And I can already see it in my 7-year old and 6-year old sons. It's something that I will certainly nourish in them as they grow up.