Nelson Mandela's impact

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Nelson Mandela, who led a revolution against injustice from a prison cell and who overthrew history by turning his back on violence, is dead. He was 95 years old.

Most of us saw him for the last time when South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.

Mr. Mandela, an amateur boxer and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, rose from poverty and obscurity to defeat the white minority rule of apartheid and become the president of South Africa. Known now to everyone everywhere, one of the best men of a bad century, he fills four or five shelves of world biography. Read everything and you'll still struggle to understand his impossible courage. Start here.

As we've done with only a handful of public figures before him, we think of Mandela not only as a player on some distant global stage, but as a marker of our own personal experience, integral to any reminiscence of who we were and are and how we came to be.

Mandela went to prison for his politics two years before the Beatles played on "Ed Sullivan." He was released from prison the week Madonna shot the video for "Vogue." Locked up, he still convinced two generations of us to march against apartheid. This we did every step of four decades behind Mandela. And Tutu. And Biko.

We spend a lot of time in the sports business making metaphors and symbols out of athletes and their achievements. We build heroes and role models from money and numbers and mud and straw. But Mr. Mandela was the thing itself. We owe him an inexpressible debt.

In partial payment, some thoughts from my colleagues and friends. From Jemele Hill, a warm remembrance of a cold night spent waiting in Johannesburg. From Jackie MacMullan, how Mandela's alchemy turned hate into love.

Rick Reilly on Soweto, hopeless then and rising now. A goodbye from activist and author Richard Lapchick. A photo gallery. Gabriele Marcotti on the founding of the Robben Island prison soccer league, and Johnette Howard on apartheid as a state of mind. Scoop Jackson and Mandela the fighter. Kevin Powell and what "South African" means to "African-American." Bonnie Ford on a long-gone June in Motown, and Wright Thompson on the persistence of memory and hope.

Nelson Mandela Day is July 18.

A decade after Steven Van Zandt's 1985 " Sun City," South Africa hosted and won the Rugby World Cup. Today a new generation of young people know Nelson Mandela mostly as a movie hero. The poem for which that film is named -- and which Mandela recited night after night in prison -- was written by William Ernest Henley.

" Invictus"

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

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