Siya Kolisi is first South Africa’s Rugby black captain

Siya Kolisi is first South Africa’s Rugby black captain

There aren’t many sports where the captain is as important as they are in rugby.

Leadership is just as important in these competitive, pitched contests as sheer skill. After all, a scrum is nothing more than a concrete team-building activity.

When your rugby team represents a whole nation, captaincy becomes even more significant. Siya Kolisi was the first player of color to be chosen captain of the South African national team, therefore it could as well have been a political appointment when he received that title.

And Kolisi has reacted with a unique strategy, rethinking rugby as a masculine sport and seeing how crucial it can be in bringing together a nation that is still torn apart by crime, corruption, and injustice.

Rugby players have been compared as human bumper cars. Running ahead, cutting off those behind me, and destroying everything in my path. This activity mixes the unprotected collisions of football with the continuous motion of basketball or hockey. It’s a game for hooligans played by gentlemen, as the expression goes.

Siya Kolisi: This is what takes place, and I always refer to it as controlled violence.

Jon Wertheim: Managed aggression of

Siya Kolisi: It’s true, too.

Rugby, according to Jon Wertheim.

And it’s legal violence, says Siya Kolisi. And it’s legal, too. We then slam into each other on the field, and the fight is over.

The Springboks, an international rugby superpower and a national institution linked for more than a century to white Afrikaner rule and power, have selected Siya Kolisi as their first Black player as captain. Kolisi is well aware of the difficulties of changing the squad in post-apartheid South Africa.

By Siya Kolisi We are human beings first and athletes second, you know? And the more you communicate with your colleague, the more you get to know each other, the more you trust each other, and the more you can be yourself around one other, the more you’ll have a stronger feeling of connection.

Jonathan Wertheim You’re suggesting that when we’re buried in muck and the game is done, if I knew your intentions and your story-

Siya Kolisi: You give it some thought. Because I don’t want to disappoint you. You see, even when I’m exhausted and we’re just standing there, I don’t give up because I know that you won’t leave me and that you understand why I’m fighting.

We were eager to see everything ourselves. We relied on Kolisi’s buddy and recently retired Springbok teammate instead since he was focused on playing when we needed him. We went with Tendai Mtawarira, a.k.a. the Beast, to an international game in Cape Town last summer. He served as our tour guide when South Africa played Wales in rugby.

Jonathan Wertheim They are still thinking about you. Tell you that, please.

Tendai Mtawarira: In all likelihood, they haven’t.
First lesson: getting to your seat when accompanied by a rugby icon results in a scrum of its own.

The second lesson is that rugby requires a mix of strength, speed, endurance, and poise in addition to, of course, bone-rattling smashes.

Oh, says Jon Wertheim.

Tendai Mtawarira: He’ll be hurting the next day. That much is true.

Jonathan Wertheim How will you feel in the morning?

Tendai Mtawarira: That’s right.

Jonathan Wertheim Another melee? Man. What takes place at the bottom of that pile is something I can only picture.

Tendai Mtawarira: The environment is gloomy.

Captain Kolisi was clearly shown, making runs and accelerating.

Tendai Mtawarira said, “Oh, dude.” That was a useful item.

Jonathan Wertheim Quite a few possessions, yes?

Kolisi scored a try, which is the rugby equivalent of a touchdown, in the second half of the game.

In a stadium full of South Africans of all hues, a Black captain scores. How much has changed.

Jonathan Wertheim You experienced apartheid as a child. What function did rugby serve in Afrikaner culture?

Massive, says Francois Pienaar. It was our coveted object. It was our narcotic.

Black South Africans often supported the opposition side when former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar played. But when Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, he backed the Springboks when they hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup in an attempt to bring the nation together. There was just one black player on the squad in a nation where white people only make up 13 percent of the population.

The opponent New Zealand was defeated in the decisive game by the Springboks. The victory was made into the film “Invictus,” with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon portraying Mandela and Pienaar, respectively.

Jon Wertheim: This notion that sports may help to mend a society.

I don’t believe it’s a good concept, says Francois Pienaar. It’s not a tool, in my opinion. Just like that.

Jon Wertheim: It just is.

Francois Pienaar: Let’s utilize sport to bring people together; it’s not something you should do. That is not how things work. Then that is untrue. It’s artificial. It’s fabricated. Sport is a real activity.

Jon Wertheim: Unrehearsed

Unscripted, says Francois Pienaar.

Jon Wertheim: Scriptless—

Gust: Francois Pienaar Guts. Guts. Everyone is there when everything just comes together, you know. Everyone has stock. Everyone in a country has a piece in the team when it fails. Everybody.

Siya Kolisi was just four years old when South Africa won the World Cup in 1995. He was raised in the racially segregated “township” of Zwide, which is located outside of Port Elizabeth on the Indian Ocean.

Siya Kolisi: I used to walk to school on this street.

He claims that his grandma reared him with love after he was born to young, unmarried parents. Both food and money were limited. He sometimes just had a glass of water laced with sugar before going to bed.

By Siya Kolisi Welcome. I was raised in this area.

In this house alongside him and his grandma were their cousins, aunts, and uncles. According to Siya, he slept off on the floor where rodents trampled him.

Siya Kolisi: The only supply of water for the whole residence.

Jon Wertheim: Right here, here is where you get your water.

Siya Kolisi: I concur. Yeah. Right now. And last, here is the restroom. It didn’t work while I lived here, but it does today.

His mother’s injuries and lost teeth as a result of men’s actions are some of his earliest recollections. She and Siya’s grandma both passed away before he received his high school diploma. It wasn’t an unpleasant upbringing, he claims, however. With what he had, he got by.

Siya Kolisi: I was lacking in toys. I could not purchase toys. But I had to enjoy myself. I had to have fun. What have I done? The brick was mine. My automobile was that. I would do everything for that brick.

Jon Wertheim: Was your automobile the brick?

Siya Kolisi: I concur. When I used to park it, wash it, and get up in the morning. All I had was this.

He arrived at this field, which was covered with stones and thorns, at the same time and picked up his first rugby ball. It served as a haven from the mayhem, drugs, and violence beyond the stadium’s boundaries.

Siya Kolisi: I don’t know where I would have ended up if this place hadn’t been there, if there hadn’t been a team, a sport, and the community of sport. I was overjoyed. I relished it. It gave me inspiration. And it helped me discover who I am.

Then a major story element appeared. Playing on those pocked grounds at age 12, a coach saw him and offered him a scholarship to the prestigious, mostly White, Grey Junior School, which was just 15 miles away.

By Siya Kolisi Additionally, did you realize that the building itself? But consider it. I mean, this place has everything I need. Unlike what I’m accustomed to,

He claims that he received socks, a toothbrush, three meals each day, and his own bed for the first time.

Jonathan Wertheim You must have had such a cultural shock from it.

Siya Kolisi: It was, really. The worst part was having to return home on the weekends, when I would have to sleep on the floor. And I immediately said to myself, “I’m not going to let this go. I’m going to do this and I won’t mess up.”

He worked hard to build up his muscle, and by the time he finished high school, he had been selected to play professional rugby.

When Siya was 21, sports enthusiast Rachel Smith first met her.

Siya was a young man who, in my opinion, was attempting to make sense of a lot in his life. Rugby players are people I’ve met several times, and I am familiar with their antics.

What are they like, asks Jon Wertheim?

They are everything you’ve read about them and assumed, according to Rachel Kolisi.

Nevertheless, they began dating, and soon the nation’s racial disparities were exposed. She was accused of “contaminating her White lineage,” while he was accused of selling out. They got married and now have two kids. Two of Siya’s younger half-siblings were also adopted by them. Kolisi acknowledges that he was susceptible to the pitfalls of fame.

Siya Kolisi: At times, my head became large. I used the money to purchase sports vehicles, go out partying every weekend, and spend money with pals. Additionally, I kept becoming engaged in activities that I could never be proud of.

Siya Kolisi: But I want to study and improve. I see a therapist. And, you know, I get to speak with someone.

Can I stop you, Jon Wertheim? You simply mentioned treatment pretty lightly. Few guys in their 30s, much less those who are professional sportsmen, would casually mention anything like that in a conversation.

Siya Kolisi: Because it aids in my recovery. It aids in my improvement. The best treatment for a mental or emotional illness is counseling. I want to represent the generation of Black males who are there for their offspring. They demonstrate their love for their women via both words and deeds.

When the Springboks went through one of their worst periods ever in 2018, new coaches were brought in, and Kolisi was made captain.

Rabbit Kolisi He informed me over the phone that he had been given the title of captain. And I was simply like, “What? What? What?” I eventually hung up on him because I was unable to talk.

You understood the importance of this because you were a rugby enthusiast, Jon Wertheim.

It was incredible to see so many South Africans feel like they were finally being represented on this squad, says Rachel Kolisi.

The Springboks unintentionally advanced to the 2019 World Cup final, which was hosted in Yokohama, Japan, when their squad started to reflect the variety of the nation. The night before, the captain and his wife spoke about what would come after winning rather than the important game that day.

By Siya Kolisi These significant moments are what we all want. It could well be a major event. I’m done now. Or you could use it for a lot more things. How can we make the most of this chance to benefit not only ourselves but also others in our community and nation?

Jon Wertheim: The night before the biggest game of your career, and you’re considering what you’re going to do to improve South Africa.

Siya Kolisi: I’m here for this reason. That is my goal.

The Springboks easily prevailed in the World Cup.

Jonathan Wertheim You said that South Africa’s triumph in Yokohama in 2019 had more significance than yours. Why?

Francois Pienaar: We had a black captain who won the World Cup. Again, everyone in South Africa and the townships throughout the nation was proud. They were world champions, and sports produce champions. Nothing else is capable of that.

Rachel and Siya established the Kolisi Foundation in order to carry out their vow to seize the opportunity. We went with them on a trip to a slum outside of Cape Town. Thousands of children get nutritious meals each day from our feeding program.

Siya Kolisi: I cannot feed them anything that I wouldn’t eat myself.

Kolisi claims that the trauma his mother endured has never left him alone. One of the cornerstones of the foundation’s work is the epidemic of gender-based violence. They distribute “Power 2 You” kits, which include a whistle, pepper spray, and emergency numbers.

We really offer it to young boys so they can deliver it to the ladies in their communities and explain what it’s about, says Rachel Kolisi.

Jonathan Wertheim It’s done on purpose. You won’t distribute them to women and girls exclusively. You’re also going to give them to the lads.

Rachel Kolisi: Definitely, I agree.

Despite his humanitarian aspirations, Kolisi has his eyes set squarely on defending the rugby world cup in 2019. Love for him and the group is still at an all-time high. Do you recall the Wales match we saw last summer? The series was won by South Africa thanks to Siya Kolisi’s touchdown try, which stood up as the pivotal score. The players took a well-earned victory lap while jubilant, if not a bit battered. The crowd, meanwhile, rejoiced fervently inside the stadium as well as in the suburbs and townships. The problems and divides of the nation vanished for those few hours on the field. It was much more than a game, as is often the case with rugby in South Africa.

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