On Friday, in honor of the one-year anniversary of former South African president Nelson Mandela's death, Toronto Raptors GM and native Nigerian Masai Ujiri held an event designed to raise money for various charitable foundations. Called "The Giant of Africa", the event was attended by some of Toronto's most high-profile athletes, including members of the city's beloved hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, there was some not-so-slight confusion about the evening on the part of Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier, who, inexplicably, had no idea who Nelson Mandela was when he was asked to discuss the anti-apartheid revolutionary's life and legacy. Yes, you read that correctly: Bernier was attending an event dedicated to Mandela, despite knowing nothing about Mandela's worldwide reputation.
It gets worse: instead of owning up to his ignorance, Bernier doubled down, calling Mandela, "one of the most known athletes in the world." Read the full transcript of Bernier's interview, via Deadspin:
Question: Obviously Nelson Mandela, one of the most significant historical figures of the twentieth century. What knowledge or awareness did you have of him growing up, or when did you learn of him?
Bernier: Well obviously growing up, he's one of the most known athletes in the world. A lot of impact in any kind of sport that he did, and even playing hockey, everyone knows him, right? From being the type of person that he was off the ice and on the ice. It's unfortunate that he passed a year ago, but, he changed a lot while he was with us, and he's a tremendous guy.
Bernier: I just think the way he met that is, you know, to me growing up playing sports with my parents was something really special cause I could share, try to be a leader, try to share things, and things like that where, you know when you're a group sport you need to do that right? Be as one, and I think that's what he met, and I think sports is really powerful. A lot of people obviously love to play the game, it can be hockey, basketball football, a lot of people watch that, and I think that's kind of the message I personally got from the…
So, according to Bernier, Mandela was a revered hockey player, who taught us to "be as one" both "off the ice and on the ice." Thank you, Mr. Mandela, for your cherished work.
Of course, when the video went live on Friday, word quickly spread of his gaffe. On Sunday, Bernier met with reporters to discuss the incident:
“I’m embarrassed,” said Bernier. “I didn’t mean to offend him, his legacy. I got flustered with the red carpet and I was nervous. I think everyone makes mistakes and that was me that night.”
We all make mistakes, Jonathan. All is forgiven. However, the next time you're asked to show up to an event dedicated to any historical figure, it'd help to at least search their name on Wikipedia.