Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Special Blessing"

One of the major news items over the past month has been the civil unrest in Africa; the president of Egypt was forced to resign amid protests and Libya is currently entrenched in chaotic revolution that will likely result in major changes. These significant events made me think of a particular sports humanitarian story of an individual worth remembering.

Manute Bol always stood out in a crowd. Being 7 feet, 7 inches tall has that effect. Bol, whose first name translates to "special blessing," was born in Sudan to a 6-foot-8 father and 6-foot-10 mother. Allegedly, his grandfather was 7-foot-10. I guess he was destined to be tall...

As a youngster, Bol's height allowed him to succeed in basketball, but, as you can assume, there weren't many talent scouts looking at northeastern Africa as a hotbed for basketball talent. Nevertheless, Bol ended up at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, where he continued to succeed before being drafted into the NBA by the Washington Bullets.

I won't bore you with highlights of his career (you can find his Wikipedia page here), but Bol was the tallest player in the history of the NBA and enjoyed a modestly successful career, honing himself as an incredible shot blocker (there are also rumours that he popularized the term "my bad").
While Bol never achieved superstardom on the basketball court, his efforts off the court were what made him a sports humanitarian legend. Bol lived a very humble life and donated much of the money he made from basketball to charitable efforts in his home country of Sudan, a nation ravaged by war. He spent considerable time at refugee camps and created the Ring True Foundation to raise funds for Sudanese refugees. He was also heavily involved in the Sudan Freedom Walk in 2006, aimed to eliminate the genocide that took place in the country and draw global awareness to human rights violations and slavery that continued to hurt the country. Instead of running from the impoverished and endangered people of Sudan, Bol embraced them.

Bol passed away last year as a result of kidney failure. The outpouring of support and remembrance around the world made more headlines than anything Bol ever accomplished on the basketball court. It was his humanitarian generosity that marked the true newsworthiness of his life. A few quotes from individuals at his memorial service are below.

"He literally gave his life for his people. He went over (to Sudan), he was sick. He stayed longer than he should have. He probably contracted this ailment that took his life while in Sudan, and he didn’t have to do that. He was an NBA basketball player. He could have stayed here and had an easy life. I’ve never seen anybody use his celebrity status more nor give his life more completely to a group of people than Manute Bol did."

"Manute had a very great heart for his country and people. He did everything to support anybody in need of shoes, blankets, health service, food, and people who were struggling. He went to see them and to encourage them to continue their struggle for their rights, for their freedoms. Manute embodied everything we can think of in Sudan. Reconciling warring groups between the north and south, in Darfur he was working for reconciliation between Darfur and the south and between Darfur and the rest of Sudan. So Manute was a voice for hope."

"This man is not an ordinary man. I believe this man is a messenger like other messengers who were sent into this world - to do something in this world. He has accomplished most of his mission, and so God took him and left the rest of the work to be done by others"


  1. Wow, I love to see celebrities and athletes giving back to the community, not because they have to but because it's what they want to do. This was such a good insight into this man, I had no idea who he was.

  2. I have to say Mike, this is a great approach to blogging about sports. As you know, I am not a person who is avidly into sports but you have managed to interest me by demonstrating the fact that there are so many individuals who are in the sports industry that use their prominence and their ability to be 'idols' to young people to promote change and support of those in need.

  3. Its really impressive when athletes involve themselves in causes which organizations like the UN have neglected. I am really inspired by this story as you generally hear negative things about how athletes choose to live their lives. Sudan is probably the biggest human rights failure of our time.

  4. It's great to see someone give back, especially to where they came from. Most athletes and celebrities today act as though they're entitled to what they have and seem as though they have forgotten how they got there.

  5. Wow, this guy surely was a humble person and didn't forget where he came from. It is sad that he passed away, but while he was living he helped other Sudanese people to freedom as much as he could. It would be nice to see more athletes (and other celebrities) giving back to their communities, and not just doing it for the money/because they have to. Thanks for blogging that many athletes have become humanitarians too.

  6. Thanks for the feedback guys. I know that Bol's contributions were geographically distant from all of us, but I think it's great to see the appreciation for his work.
    Nathan, I couldn't agree more with your comments regarding the UN in Sudan. Much like the Rwanda and the Congo, Sudan has often been ignored by the international community and governments because frankly, they don't believe it has something to offer our globalized marketplace. Perhaps I'm simplifying it too much, but isn't it interesting to see how quickly the international community responds to a resource-rich country in turmoil like Iraq, or most recently, Libya and Egypt. Hmmm...
    When the international community fails to respond to these kinds of critical issues, I am even more appreciative of celebrities (either sports or otherwise) who take it upon themselves to help out where they can. In Manute Bol's case, he was able to his his fame and fortune to make a concentrated effort to help people in need.

  7. this is a good example that shows how our talents can help others. These are the kind of stories that i like to read. Good choose!