Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-Apartheid leader who spent 27 years in jail before eventually being elected as the country's first black head of government. You probably didn't need that insultingly curt biography, but Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier sure could have used it a few days ago.
Friday was the first anniversary of Mandela's death, and the Toronto Raptors—specifically GM Masai Ujiri, who was born and raised in Nigeria—hosted a "The Giant of Africa" celebration to raise money for charitable foundations. Ujiri had asked the NBA over the summer to be able to host a home game on the anniversary, and the league obligingly gave him LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as an opponent.
The event was a star-studded affair, and as evidenced by the Raptors YouTube page, all the celebrities were asked about their thoughts on Mandela's legacy. Bernier's video went up with the rest of them Friday night, but was taken down Saturday morning once somebody realized how clueless Bernier's was.
Today Global News posted what they shot. Here's a cut of what Bernier had to say:
And a transcript of his remarks, minus the almost constant "uhh" and "you know":
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…
Oof, that's a remarkably bad response and a fascinating example of somebody bullshitting when they have absolutely no idea what they're talking about. When you're going to an event that honors one of the most well-known people in the world, you should probably know who he is. On the other hand (gotta hear both sides), is it really that big of a deal that Bernier doesn't? We all have things we "should" know but don't, and professional athletes are constantly attending events they have no interest in because they're told to by their team or a PR person.
Bernier—who was raised in Quebec and speaks English as a second language— apologized on Sunday, saying "I got flustered with the red carpet and I was nervous." But both before and after the apology, the hot takes rained down.
A Toronto Star column argues that the Raptors uploaded the video to embarrass their corporate-sibling Maple Leafs, right before admitting "that may not in fact have been the case — I've no reason to doubt Haggith [a Raptors spokesperson]." Meanwhile, FanSided thinks that Bernier's ignorance reflects "a growing trend in professional sports of players who simply aren't aware of what's going on around them in society," an assertion backed up by zero evidence, and a particularly curious one given what has been the biggest topic in the sports world the past week.
I'm inclined to think this is just an embarrassingly funny, cringe-inducing video that we should enjoy a couple of laughs at, and isn't about ethics in sports franchises nor does it signify the downfall of Western Civilization. That's just one man's lukewarm take, though.