Nelson Mandela, the great former South African president and anti-apartheid leader who died at age 95, was a sports fan.
He loved boxing. His support of the Springboks national rugby team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup was immortalized in the movie "Invictus." He was instrumental in getting soccer's 2010 World Cup to come to South Africa.
Mandela even took in an American football game, attending a Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins game in 1999. He sat with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in Jones' suite at old Texas Stadium.
Jones recalled to the Dallas Morning News that on the morning of Oct. 24, 1999 he got a call from his friend Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, who told him he wanted to bring a friend to the game.
“He didn’t tell me who and then he came in and it was Mandela,” Jones told the Dallas Morning News. “He sat there in our suite and watched the entire game, but he couldn’t quit exchanging and having real involvement with all the young children. He enjoyed those children.”
Mandela got to see the Cowboys beat the Redskins 38-20.
"I don't know the game," Mr. Mandela confessed to his hosts, according to the 1999 story in the Morning News. "But I'll cheer when you cheer."
Mandela went to the locker room after the game to meet the Cowboys players, who were "awed" by Mandela, according to the Morning News' story.
The great world leader understood the positive impact that sports can have.
“Sport,” Mandela said, according to the New York Times, “has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
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