Athletes React to Passing of Nelson Mandela

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IDecember 5, 2013

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 06:  A giant screen projects images of former president Nelson Mandela during the 2013 Vodacom Durban July at Greyville Racecourse on July 06, 2013 in Durban, South Africa. The main race of the day, the President's Champions Challenge, was won for the first time by a black jockey; S'manga Khumalo riding Heavy Metal. As a tribute to former president Nelson Mandela, who remains critically ill in hospital, sixty seven seconds of silence were observed.    (Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95, and the world was forced to say goodbye to one of the most inspirational and influential leaders ever.    

Mandela was known most for his revolutionary work in ending apartheid in South Africa, but he was also an extremely important figure in the sports world, among so many other things. As SportsCenter's Twitter feed pointed out, he once talked about sports' great power:

With the immeasurable effect Mandela had on the world, it wasn't surprising to see professional athletes pouring out their support. 

When it comes to sports, Mandela was most known for his work on the South African rugby team, and current player Jean de Villiers talked about Mandela's presence and impact: 

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is known as one of the most charitable professional athletes in America, provided his own thoughts on Mandela's passing:

Golfer Tiger Woods, who met Mandela in 1998, had the following to say, via the Golf Channel's Twitter account:

Other athletes chose to honor Mandela's legacy by posting some quotes from the legendary figure. Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins used this famous example:

MLB players Brandon Phillips and Shane Victorino gave the longer versions of the same quote, while also adding their own sentiments:

Others who were lucky enough to meet Mandela and be touched in person by his wonderful presence shared pictures.

Here's one from Pele, one of the most famous football players of all time:

World-class Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo added this:

Former Detroit Pistons guards Isiah Thomas provided this terrific snapshot of Mandela decked out in Pistons gear:

Other high-profile stars such as the Miami Heat's LeBron James and Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III tweeted:

James also shared his thoughts before facing the Chicago Bulls, via Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:

His words, his mind, will live on forever. In his 95 years, he was able to do some unbelievable things, not only for South Africa, but for the whole world. You hate to lose a pioneer, a great, but what they can leave behind means more than anything. And I think what Nelson Mandela will leave behind is more than him himself, like Martin Luther King and so many other greats that's come and go. It's a sad day for his family, obviously, but for us to be in this position to see what he meant to this world while he was able to be here, means everything.

Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it simply, saying that Mandela's death is akin to "a bright light" going out:

The honoring of Nelson Mandela's life spread to the ice, as well, as the Toronto Maple Leafs held a moment of silence before Thursday's game:

Considering the wide spectrum of athletes of various sports who took time to honor him, there's no question Mandela's impact was far-reaching.

This is truly a sad day, but it is quite clear that Mandela influenced and inspired millions upon millions of individuals during his lifetime, and his legacy and memory will continue to live on through his philosophy, his words and the impact he had on so many people all over the world.