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10 Athletes That Had a Nelson Mandela-Like Impact On The World Of Sports

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Nelson Mandela: 10 Athletes That Had Similar Impact, But In Sports

Matt Kartozian - USA TODAY Sports

Nelson Mandela spent 95 years on planet Earth, but he accomplished what most wouldn't have been able to do in 150 years, let alone 95. With a Nobel Peace Prize, US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin forever in his trophy case, Mandela leaves a legacy that isn't to be rivaled anytime soon. Moreover, Mandela left such a large impact on the world and his passing got me thinking about both retired and present-day athletes that share similar qualities to the historic South African leader.

Now before everyone starts berating me for even thinking about comparing a hero like Mandela to mere "jocks" take a look at one of Mandela's most infamous quotes:

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

So there you have it. The larger-than-life Mandela has always known the importance of sport and those who play it. Therefore, here is a list of 10 top-notch athletes that found a way to change the game, yet do so with nothing but class. While none of these athletes spearheaded an anti-apartheid revolutionary; the world of sport has seen some real trail blazers over the years and here are just a few of the most notable.

See: Nelson Mandela's Inspiring Life Brought 2010 World Cup to South Africa

Devin O’Barr is the Content Commentator for Follow him on Twitter @DevinOBarrRS, “Like” him on Facebook  or add him to your network on Google.

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Mariano Rivera

Anthony Gruppuso - USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who was able to absorb Mariano Rivera's farewell tour last summer knows all about greatest closer of all time's infinite love for the game that made him famous and all of the people behind the scenes. Not to mention, Rivera carried on Jackie Robinson's legacy via the infamous No. 42 and for that he deserves a spot on this list.

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Jason Collilns

Kevin Jairaj - USA TODAY Sports

Jason Collins might not look like a total trail blazer right now, but he's surely someone that stuck his neck out for the greater good of the sporting world. The ex-NBA center open admitted to being gay this spring and the reaction has been mixed to say the least. A few bone-headed athletes have given Collins the cold shoulder, while others have embraced Collins and his courage. In a few decades; sports fans of all kinds will look back and call Collins a total hero.

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Earvin "Magic" Johnson

Mike Carter - USA TODAY Sports

When Earvin "Magic" Johnson first contracted the HIV virus the NBA and it's fans immediately went into shock. However, Johnson has managed to turn the tide on this horrid disease and now stands firm as a basketball staple.

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Doug Williams

Kevin Jairaj - USA TODAY Sports

A lesser-known athlete on this list, Williams never was an All-Pro and only threw 20 or more touchdowns once in his nine-year NFL career. However, Williams made history in 1987 by becoming the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Williams' courage paved the way for black quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair to play at such a high level.

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Pat Tillman

Jennifer Hilderbrand - USA TODAY Sports

Nelson Mandela made his name early in his life for being a non-violent leader, but would later lead a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. With that being said, Pat Tillman embodies the definition of sacrifice. The ex-Arizona Cardinal left his NFL dreams to defend his country and will forever be remembered as a hero within both the armed forces and NFL ranks.

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Muhammad Ali

John David-Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali were rather close and for good reason. Mandela respected the heck out of Ali considering the former was a boxer as a youth. Even still, Ali's decision to stick up for his beliefs and not go to war for the United State of America. Love or hate Ali's mindset, you can't knock him for speaking his mind and always backing it up on the canvas.

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Danica Patrick

Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

Far too often, Danica Patrick gets the shaft when the conversation turns to inspirational athletes. NASCAR isn't just a heavy-male sport, it was a male-ONLY sport before Patrick broke through the monotony. Now, she serves as a total role model for sports fans across the globe -- especially young women looking to make a mark.

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Roberto Clemente


Every year, MLB hands out the Roberto Clemente Award to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. Mandela has a plethora of honors and accolades in his name, so it's easy to connect Clemente to the South African legend.

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Arthur Ashe


Arthur Ashe is the only tennis player on this list, but to call him just a tennis player is rather disrespectful. Similar to Magic Johnson, Ashe was diagnosed with AIDS, yet was not able to overcome the powerful disease. Since his passing, Ashe's legacy has been felt throughout the sports landscape.

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Jackie Robinson

Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Their isn't a single athlete in the history of sports that fits the Nelson Mandela mold better than Jackie Robinson. The original No. 42 didn't let his detractors hold him back as the Brooklyn Dodgers' mainstay etched his name in the record books by breaking the color barrier in 1947. Robinson has left a legacy in MLB since passing away in 1972. April 15th in baseball is known as Jackie Robinson day, but any good fan knows that everyday is Jackie Robinson day.

Devin O’Barr is the Content Commentator for Follow him on Twitter @DevinOBarrRS, “Like” him on Facebook  or add him to your network on Google.