Friday was the first anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela, the South African political giant and anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years in prison for his activism before eventually being released and elected to become the country’s first black head of state. The NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and more specifically GM Masai Ujiri (who was born and raised in Nigeria), hosted a celebration called “The Giant of Africa” that evening to commemorate Mandela and to raise money for charity. Ujiri had asked the NBA over the summer to be able to host a home game on the anniversary; the league agreed and provided LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as opponents. The event was a star-studded affair and many celebrities were asked about their thoughts on Mandela’s life and legacy. One of those was the unfortunate Jonathan Bernier of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Obviously, even though “everybody knows him” and he was “a tremendous guy” who “changed a lot,” Nelson Mandel wasn’t a hockey player. It’s easy to laugh at. To be fair, it probably isn’t reasonable to expect a hockey player to have a lot of knowledge about history and world events. And, like many professional athletes, he is no doubt asked to attend many charity functions for which he doesn’t have a lot of background. He has also apologized, saying “I got flustered with the red carpet and I was nervous.” But that doesn’t make the gaffe any less outrageous. He didn’t have a clue about what he was being asked about and, clearly, he shouldn’t have tried to fudge his way through the interview. But what he did was much closer to what we all do than we’d like to think. Continue reading