THE 16th MAN!

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ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is one of the best sports programming on TV since the YES network(NY Yankees Channel). This week was no different with the film, “The 16th Man” directed by Clifford Bestall & narrated by the one and only, Morgan Freeman! South Africa has been laced with the framework of apartheid for 50 years. It wasn’t until 1994 that the firm grasp of Apartheid finally collapsed under the spirited & persistent leadership of their President, Nelson Mandela. Can you believe the leadership of the Afrikaner’s (Whites) under Apartheid reign for these 50 years summoned laws for the blacks without their vote or voice in the matter? The blacks out numbered the whites in South Africa 6 to 1. Enforced segregation is so blatantly ignorant & shows such a tremendous insecurity with the groups that are trying to dictate it. I still can’t fathom that my country with the red,white,& blue encouraged slavery, & segregation not too long ago in our relatively young history. Black South Africans have endured a lot in those 50 years of segregation from being discriminated against in their own native country while grossly outnumbering their supposed Afrikan counterparts. To add insult to injury, the blacks did not have a vote or a voice. Sad to say, but that sounds quite familiar.

But, how does this film relate to ESPN & sports you say? “The 16th Man” was in reference to rugby & the 15 players in the game + one dynamic influence, Nelson Mandela = 16 players. You see, rugby in South Africa was king. The local professional team, the Springbok’s were idolized by the whites. Rugby was outlawed for the blacks & the colored under apartheid reign so of course the non-whites despised the sport. Rugby symbolized discrimination & segregation under Afrikaner rule. Blacks were treated worse than 2nd class citizens in their own native country in Africa, nonetheless! When the New Zealand team played the Springbok’s, the blacks cheered secretly for the New Zealand team. The South African team got their ass handed to them on a “barbie” that day! The New Zealand team which ironically were named the “All Blacks” beat the all white team to a bloody pulp, literally! The tide of the water started to flow a bit differently when Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990. Mandela helped South Africa transition to a democratic nation as he took the bullhorns as President of his country in 1994. The South African blacks were slowly trying to heal & regenerate themselves from the years of anger & frustration from being mistreated. There were still obvious separations with the whites & blacks in this nation, especially with mindsets. In 1995, Nelson Mandela took the opportunity to make rugby as the vehicle to unite his country of all colors & races in the Rugby World Cup which was hosted in his divided but recovering nation of South Africa. The underdog Springbok’s had made it to the last dance with New Zealand’s “All Black team” for the finale! The journey to the final game vs New Zealand was not an easy feat. The semifinals vs France proved to be a great obstacle because of weather. The game was almost canceled because of torrential rain & if this was the case, France would of won by default because of the total points won in the tournament. However, with divine intervention in mind for South Africa’s sake, the skies started to clear & the rain started to subside. The game was finally played as the Springbok’s shocked France by beating them down with a baguette of hard play! They were one game away from glory vs the “All Black’s” of New Zealand. The Championship game in Johannesburg generated electricity like this country has never seen. The stadium was full of color, mostly in black & white with the South African flag wailing in the wind! This was a game & day that the people of South Africa stood side by side together no matter race nor color to cheer their new country on! Before the game started, Nelson Mandela made a surprise & uplifting appearance in his Springbok uniform to greet the players & shake their hands to wish them luck. Two national anthems were played to honor South Africa before the slugfest began! In the movie, a few Springbok players said they had to bite their lips to prevent a few strands of tears from flowing when Nelson Mandela came out to meet them & then again when the anthem was unleashed! It was a touching & unprecedented moment for South Africa! To make a long fought game short, the Springbok’s were victorious as they took home the title of being the Rugby World Cup Champions! More importantly, the interaction between the whites, colored, & blacks under one nation, under one stadium with one goal in mind to will their countrymen to victory sparked a transformation in their everyday mindsets for the good! Nelson Mandela had envisioned to unite all the South African’s together in peace & to create a new beginning for their country! Mandela’s peace making efforts utilized a sporting event instead of politics to help change the karma of their torn up nation. Mandela’s message was well taken. Why fight each other, black, white, or green? Let’s learn & respect each others culture & unite our forces to make a happy & sustainable South Africa! We cannot change the past, but let’s heal the wounds, & try to learn from the mistakes. I really enjoyed watching “The 16th Man” as this serves as a reminder that humanity can be cruel but we must be courageous & persistent to fight for our rights as a human or a martian for that matter. We should all strive to be more color blind in this galaxy in general, but not in respects to traffic signals of course! Big props for ESPN for promoting these thought provoking films! Words for thought, professional sports are usually color blind in terms of players at least because the ultimate goal is winning. We are fairly certain that if you have exceptional talent in your professed choice of sport, owners nor coaches would care less if you have a greenish hue or 2 heads & 3 eyes for that matter.

–Mr. C

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