Rugby, Mandela change agents

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The last movie that really touched me was … was … wait a minute: A movie that touched me? How far back can I go? College? Childhood? Does “Bambi” count?

I don’t go to movies to be touched. I go for the entertainment. A comedy takes me away from my cares; a romance … uh … I don’t do romance movies; “The Godfather” makes me check the back seat to make sure Luca Brasi isn’t lurking.

But crying at a movie?

Not me.

Until now.

Last week, I saw the trailer for “Invictus,” a story of the 1995 World Cup rugby tournament played in South Africa, a country just recovering from the scourge of apartheid.

The country’s president, Nelson Mandela, a black man, saw the World Cup as a way to unite his country, to show that whites and blacks were meant to be equal partners, not haughty oppressors and bedraggled oppressed.

“Invictus” stars Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the white captain of the Springboks, the 1995 South African national rugby team. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela. Clint Eastwood directed.

The title, “Invictus,” is taken from a short poem by the same name, written by British poet William Ernest Henley. A testimonial to self-reliance and fortitude in the face of peril, the poem features the oft-quoted line, “My head is bloody but unbowed.”

That’s rugby, a sport that demands the unity Mandela sought and the spirit of bouncing back even when blood is streaming, either literally or figuratively, from a gash in the forehead.

As a metaphor for the triumph of will, rugby nobly represents how a community — whether a nation or a state, a city or a neighborhood — can triumph if the focus is on the team and on the value of talent rather than on the cancer of ignorance.

Yes, I played rugby. I love it. But even if “Invictus” were about how a game of contract bridge brought a nation together, I think I would have shed tears to realize the miracle teamwork can bring about.

During apartheid, rugby was seen as the white man’s game, while soccer was the favored sport of the black majority. “Invictus” is not just another sports movie; it is about leadership and taking a meaningful, perhaps even nation-changing, risk.

Jay Patel, a local Springs’ community leader who is from South Africa said, “I look forward to seeing this movie because it shows just how pivotal a role the South African rugby team had on the smooth transition of power from the minority white Afrikaners to the majority black people.”

The Springboks played the New Zealand national team in the final game.

I watched it on TV. The energy and emotion in that stadium leaped from the screen. Both blacks and whites were chanting, “Nel-son! Nel-son!”

Such unity is what Colorado Springs needs. It doesn’t happen by accident; it requires Mandela-like leadership, the eagerness to embrace meaningful risks.

Admit it, you thought this was going to be another of my columns championing a rugby stadium, and that’s still my dream. But that’s not why I’m writing today.

I’m writing so that the spirit, if not every detail, of “Invictus” can make a difference in the lives of those who live here and care about progress and the setting aside of differences so that the achievements can soar.

The Springboks won that 1995 championship game, and the white captain, Pienaar, accepted the trophy from the black president, Mandela. Not so long before, Pienaar would have had the legal right to treat Mandela as an inferior.

No wonder the movie is called “Invictus.” The poem’s last lines are: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Which means two things: First, I’m going to see “Invictus” as soon as it hits town, and second, I’m not giving up on that rugby stadium.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.

9 Responses to Rugby, Mandela change agents

  1. Hey, Lon, there’s no crying in baseball! What makes you think it’s OK to cry over a silly rugby game? Man up, dude!

    Dick Burns
    November 25, 2009 at 1:42 pm

  2. thanks for not giving up on the community and especially not giving up on the Colorado Springs US Olympic Stadium which could feature rugby… did anyone realize that we have the second most winningest Rugby Team in the Nation up at the USAFA, which has won 3 National Championships since 1980?

    Scott Gray
    November 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm

  3. Hi there. Several of my readers forwarded your column to me — I’m Contributing Editor to Rugby Magazine, the paper of record here in the States — and my eyebrows shot up when I saw you were campaigning for a rugby-specific stadium in the Springs. As I am always fishing for a column about how the game is developing in the US, this falls right into my wheelhouse.
    Could you let me know when a good time for phone call might be (I’m in DC)? By the way, who did you play for?
    Buzz McClain
    rugbybuzz@gmail.com

    Buzz McClain
    November 27, 2009 at 6:31 pm

  4. Dear Lon,
    I saw your comment on facebook about Invictus.
    Me and my daughter Lane was among the 2000 extras on Ellispark and all I can say : WOW!
    It was really amazing. Coming from a background where I was a police officer for 23 years I sense in my heart that this film is going to touch many South African lives. I just wished I could spent 5 min with Clint Eastwood thanking him for making this film. But I was a bit scared they would chase me of the set!
    He was my childhood hero and I also wanted to become a “cowboy” oneday!
    (perhaps that’s why I joined the police force)
    But, anyway, thank you for writing the article and with your permission I would like to add this article on my facebook group.
    Blessings and all the best.
    Fanie van Vuuren

    Fanie van Vuuren
    November 29, 2009 at 6:26 pm

  5. I wonder who will play Suzie the waitress and if they will have the post match dinner, where a few countries walked out in disgust.

    Wallaby
    November 30, 2009 at 3:53 am

  6. Buzz,

    I played for UW – Eau Claire, Fort Lauderdale Knights, Milwaukee Black and Blue, once in awhile for Metropolis old boys, I was secretary of Wisconisn RFU in early 90′s and basically a riff raff hanger on type of guy, referee and adminstrator. I will send you contact info seperately.

    Fanie,

    Sure you can post the column link on your facebook page. I would love to hear more on what it was like being an extra in the movie.

    Lon
    November 30, 2009 at 10:51 am

  7. I’ll be seeing “Invictus” tonight at a special screening in Washington, D.C.; Morgan Freeman is presiding. I’ll be posting a review of the film on http://www.rugbymag.com when it gets closer to the Dec. 11 release date.

    Buzz McClain
    November 30, 2009 at 12:30 pm

  8. Hey all of you “Oes” from Zim and ‘Bokland. This is OUR time to meet and watch together!

    I know people that were lucky enough to be at THE game. We know what an important time it was and how we now have the chance to be “whenwe’s” again!

    December 11th, Hollywood movie theater..first show after 5.00pm.

    Check you there…fellow Bofanas!!!

    Jay Patel
    December 1, 2009 at 3:16 pm

  9. Wallaby, only losers walk out of WC diners.

    Murray
    December 8, 2009 at 10:19 pm