First, let me get this disclaimer out of the way. Technically, I guess Tim Shriver is my boss (or my bosses bosses bosses boss or whatever) since I work for Special Olympics Massachusetts, a Chapter of Special Olympics International, where Shriver is the Chairman and CEO. That said, I am not here on Special Olympics’ dime and feel the freedom to report objectively on the happenings here. And that said, Tim Shriver is da man!
The evening before the Unity Cup we had a dinner hosted by Special Olympics South Africa and we were joined by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. It was truly an honor to be in the presence of this man, who has risen to the ranks of Presidency after having been wrongfully imprisoned, along with many of his African National Congress (ANC) colleagues including Nelson Mandela, early in his life. When Zuma entered Robben Island prison as a young man, he could not read or write. While in prison, he educated himself and also helped run a tightly organized club soccer league for prisoners. He and many of his wrongfully-imprisoned colleagues from the ANC knew that one day they would be released and possibly in prominent positions within the government, so they used this soccer league as live case study on how to organize and govern successfully (are you still questioning the power of sport?!). Now Zuma is the President of South Africa, and throughout the Unity Cup experience, he was incredibly generous with his time and his advocacy on behalf of inclusion and acceptance for people with different abilities. By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, Zuma’s got three wives. Yeah. Anyways…
Zuma spoke eloquently and thoughtfully (for the second time that day-he had a press conference earlier at Unity Cup practice) in support of Special Olympics. Now, it was Tim Shriver’s turn to speak. But first let me set the stage for you: The Ghana vs. Uruguay World Cup Quarterfinal game was happening at the same time as this dinner. Ghana was the last remaining African team playing in the World Cup. This is the first ever World Cup held in Africa, and it is in South Africa, where Zuma is the President. The entire continent was pulling for Ghana. This Ghana vs. Uruguay game was perhaps the most important single game/match ever held in Africa. Think “Miracle on Ice” or something like that, but there really is no comparison. Naturally, President Zuma let it be known (presumably very politely) that he would like for the dinner program, which was already running long, to wrap up quickly so that he could watch the second half of the game. In addition to that, while us in the Special Olympics-world viewed this dinner as a monumental moment of sorts, I am sure to President Zuma it was just another in a long line of formal occasions requiring his presence (this is not to discount his willingness and eagerness to advocate for and support Special Olympics). So, against that back-drop, and fully knowledgeable of all of the above, Tim Shriver stepped to the microphone. No pressure, right?
No notes in hand, with a gracious and natural smile, and with the energy and enthusiasm of a Special Olympics athlete scoring a goal, Shriver delivered a message that is choking me up even thinking about a few days later as I type this. Shriver made the bold and audacious decision to reference the struggle that Zuma and his fellow black citizens of South Africa experienced when fighting against the Apartheid government throughout the second half of the 20th Century in describing the fight that people with different abilities currently face throughout the world in gaining their own independence, dignity, respect, and inclusion in their societies. And his delivery worked. President Zuma intently listened, never taking his eyes off of Shriver, nodding in agreement and graciously smiling himself throughout the speech. Shriver told Zuma that by continuing to fight on behalf of rights for people with different abilities, Zuma will do no more important work in his presidency for global human rights. You go Tim! Shriver’s key phrase throughout The Unity Cup has been “Game Changer”. Basically, this Unity Cup is a “game-changing” event. He has encouraged everyone he speaks to within the Special Olympics Movement to be a “game changer”. He’s right. He got me thinkin. If I’m not being a game-changer, than I’m just wasting my time. So, we should all aspire to be game-changers. Tim Shriver certainly is.
(If we can get our hands on footage of Tim Shriver’s speech, we will certainly post it here.)
In the meantime, please enjoy some footage from an interview we did with Shriver as well as clips from before and after the dinner: