This new series is guest blogged by Doug Logan.
Doug Logan is an Adjunct Professor of Sports Management, at New York University.
He was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010.
He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview
This is his 30th article. Click here for his entire series.
SHIN SPLINTS REDUX
This morning, the greatest assemblage of heads of state in history said their goodbyes to Nelson Mandela. Televised globally from a stadium built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, this ceremony marked the end of life for a remarkable human being.
Mandela, also known in his country as either Madiba, his tribal name, or Tata, an affectionate honorific that means “father”, stands at the pinnacle of great men in the 20th Century and occupies a space in history that he shares with only a few. Perhaps only the Indian Mahatma Gandhi and the American Martin Luther King Jr. can be said to be his equal. All three were liberators of their people, whose power was derived not from weapons or armaments or foot soldiers but from moral authority. All three led their movements with grace, elegance and dignity. All three were incarcerated. And all three bestowed mercy and forgiveness on their antagonists.
I took a break from watching the moving tribute and went for my morning walk. I listened to a song by LCD Soundsystem, Losing My Edge. The lyrics, written in 2005 by the talented James Murphy, bemoan the process of aging.
“Yeah, I’m losing my edge, I’m losing my edge. The kids are coming up from behind.”
He goes on to say, later in the song:
“But I’m losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent.”
Mandela, however, who died at age 95, seemed as young and as vital in his last years as when he was sent to prison on Robben Island in 1962. He got better looking as he aged, always had the best ideas and the most talent. To use a baseball metaphor, he never lost his fastball. He never lost his edge.
I have often asked myself where these unique individuals find this quality of moral authority. The only person I have met that I felt had that power was the late Arthur Ashe. Perhaps Ashe, himself, circumscribed the essence of this quality the best in one of my favorite quotes:
“We must reach out our hands in friendship and dignity both to those who would befriend us and those who would be our enemy.”
I watched an interview with F W de Klerk, the former South African president, who commenced negotiations with Mandela in prison in 1989. He described his impressions upon meeting Mandela. De Klerk said he had no idea he was so tall and was impressed by his poise and carriage after so many years in jail. He also stated that Mandela surprised him with his gentleness and kindness. I suggest that de Klerk had no chance gaining a negotiating advantage from then on. Mandela had claimed the moral and psychological “high ground” in that first meeting.
After a series of difficult negotiations, agreements were reached between the parties and the evil practice of apartheid was abolished. Mandela was released from jail in 1990 and was lauded globally for his courageous actions. He managed to maintain cordial relations with his former captors and in 1993 shared his triumph with his nemesis. Both Mandela and de Klerk received the American Medal of Freedom, addressed a joint session of the US Congress and they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Shakespeare wrote a wonderful speech for Portia in The Merchant of Venice.
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”
That is the essence of Mandela. That after so many years of suffering at the hands of cruel and evil men, he was able to unclench his fist and offer the hand of forgiveness and friendship.
Mandela was aware of the power of sports, both as a means to stimulate patriotic fervor and as a way to heal wounds between factions. In 1995 South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. Mandela encouraged the country to enthusiastically back the home team Springboks, despite the great hate that blacks had for the previously white-only side. The South Africans improbably defeated New Zealand in the finals, and Mandela handed the Cup to the Afrikaner captain, Francois Pienaar, while wearing a Springbok game jersey with Pienaar’s number 6 on the back. This symbolic act was memorialized in the movie Invictus, with Morgan Freeman playing the role of Mandela.
He also lobbied forcefully with FIFA and was successful in hosting the soccer FIFA World Cup in 2010. Although sick and frail for most of the competition, Mandela made a moving appearance at the closing ceremonies.
And so, today, we say a sad goodbye. Bill Graham always ended the concerts he promoted with the strains of the old English ballad, Greensleeves. This 400 year old song, probably written for a lute, evokes sadness and to me symbolizes an end. I will be humming the melody to myself for the next few days.