Friday’s Final Thought: Uncommon Integrity and the Power of Sports

Dec 06, 2013

Yesterday, the world lost a leader who demonstrated uncommon integrity and moral courage in the face of an unjust political system, racism, discrimination, imprisonment, isolation, and people who wanted to see him fail. 

Today there will be countless elegies and tributes for Nelson Mandela, a man who not only helped end the apartheid in South Africa, but did so with dignity and respect even those who did not respect him.  There are numerous times where one might expect and even understand how he could become bitter and hateful.  Instead, he made the uncommon choice to strive for connection with others.  To make the right choice, not the easy one.

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela

A former boxer and huge soccer fan, Mandela also understood the power of sports to bring people together.  In 1995, the South African rugby team, the Springboks, made it the finals of the Rugby World Cup.  The apartheid may have been over but the country was still deeply divided, and at the time, rugby was a predominantly white sport in South Africa and the team was seen as a symbol of the apartheid by many.  Mandela rallied the entire country to support the Springboks.  The team won the World Cup, but really, South Africa won.

Sports have always played a role in helping us see past the differences on the surface.  After all, it is the combination of skill, teamwork (if it’s a team sport), communication, work ethic, perseverance, and drive that determines the final score. 

That’s why the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation uses team sports.  Sure, it’s fun and keeps the kids engaged and physically active—which are all important.  But beyond that, it doesn’t matter what part of town you live in, what brand of clothing you wear, whether someone is a police officer or has been on the other side of the law, or even what language you speak.  We’ve seen it: kids who were once afraid of police officers running up to talk to them, kids from across the country who had just met cheering each other on, kids who understood what we showed them even if they had no idea what we said.

True athletes play to win, and sharing that goal can motivate people to put aside their perceived differences because you can’t win if you don’t work together as a team.  Regardless of the final score, if you play as a team, if you play with integrity, and if you give it your all – you’ll win where it matters.

How have you seen sports bring people together?