As founder and president of FocalSport, a Southport-based sports and entertainment marketing company, Mark Noonan works with clients like the New York Mets, FIBA (the world governing body of basketball) and Major League Soccer.
But several years ago, while at US Soccer, the 1983 Staples High School graduate traveled to South Africa. The organization’s executive team was invited by their counterparts to visit and exchange best practices, as that nation sought to win the right to host the FIFA World Cup.
In Cape Town their hosts gave Noonan’s group a private tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years.
This weekend, Noonan vividly pictures the cell Mandela was forced to live in. “How a man could endure such injustice without breaking, losing his dignity, or developing a deep bitterness for so long was, and is, truly humbling,” Noonan says.
He also recalls “the attitude of the people I met toward race, especially when juxtaposed against the very real tensions that were prevalent in our country at the time (and sadly still exist today).”
Whether speaking with a black, white, Indian or mixed race person — and across varying economic backgrounds — the prevailing attitude was “we are now one and it is good. What was done in the past has been forgiven. We now live in a harmonious new South Africa,” Noonan says.
Importantly, he adds, “I didn’t get the sense that this was being said just to be politically correct with their American guests. It was real. There was not just pride in how they described their country, but also an ease and a really warm contentment. Like the movement’s leader, it lacked any kind of bitterness or hatred.
“I was simply awestruck how Mandela could have such a profound effect on the psyche of the nation, given our country’s long struggle with our own race issues.”
As the world mourns a truly inspirational leader, Westporters must have many stories of their own experiences with South Africa, or people they know from there. Please click “Comments” to share.