Mandela image
Getty images

Union VP of Business Relations Carl Cherkin talks the accomplishments of Nelson Mandela

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people that little else has. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” 

-- Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela was just a man. But examining his life and legacy upon his death makes you realize how fortunate South Africa -- and all of mankind -- were that his birth and life intersected with an extraordinary time in the history of his homeland.

Mandela, a boxer and a fighter in his youth, imprisoned for 27 of his 95 years for his political beliefs, emerged without bitterness or a desire for retribution and saved his nation from certain turmoil. Without him, the transition from apartheid to majority rule and democracy might have been as bloody as our own Civil War. To his people, of all colors and creeds, he will always be the remembered as the embodiment of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy -- combined.

The magic of Nelson Mandela, is that his greatness did not spring forth from amassing great power, wealth or conquests, but it flourished as a result of his ability to move mountains with love.

At Philadelphia Union, we have a Purpose Statement that reflects the vision of our CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz and our ownership. It defines and drives us in everything we do. In it, our ‘Dream’ sets a lofty goal:  ‘Our soccer brings people together, inspires dreams and forges memories.'  With the 2014 World Cup Brazil taking place this summer, we are once again reminded, and will see in action, the power of sport bringing people together.

A couple of years ago, through our partners at Widener University and their Speakers Series, I had the extraordinary privilege of having dinner with F.W. de Klerk, the man who was in power at the time of Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island, where he spent over a quarter century of his life. When I shared our Dream and equated it with the quote at the top of this piece, he smiled and said he thought the incredibly humble Mandela too would have been pleased. Though each man came from totally opposite worlds, they forged an enduring partnership for the good of their country. When de Klerk peacefully ceded power to President Mandela, his doing so, is another graphic example of just how powerful Mandela’s message of love and togetherness could be.

Nelson Mandela’s power was awesome. It disarmed most of the hatred and fear in his country and his message expanded well beyond South Africa’s borders. Collectively, we still have a long way to go, but our world is truly better having had Nelson Mandela among us for those 95 years.

The events of the 20th Century spawned many great leaders, but for me, Nelson Mandela’s message resonates more than others. Perhaps it’s because through sport, Mandela was able to communicate his message of love and brotherhood, to change the course of history and ultimately, save tens of thousands of lives.

His message gave many who despaired before he emerged as the leader of all his people, hope for a better future.  May he rest in eternal peace and may all of us in our own way, learn and spread the lessons of his teachings —through sport, an acceptance and appreciation for all, while celebrating our differences, continuing to make our world a better place, every day.

Carl Cherkin is the vice president of business relations for Philadelphia Union. To leave a comment send email to


Download the FREE MLS App

Follow the Union's scores, updates, highlights, analysis and more.