Jonathan Bernier speaks out about the Nelson Mandela incident

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A few weeks ago in Montreal, I bumped into Jonathan Bernier during a L’Oréal promotional event. The Leafs goaltender is a really chill guy so I wasn’t shy asking him how he managed the « Nelson Mandela incident ».

Let’s rewind a little. December 2014, the internet is raging. The Raptors upload a YouTube video of Jonathan Bernier inadvertently speaking of Nelson Mandela at the event « The Giant of Africa ». OOPS!

The following days, the Maple Leafs goaltender became victim of « internet outrage ». This media and social networks phenomenon where the public reacts outrageously, offended, angry in response to a comment, an opinion, a phrase…

The irony in this whole saga is that everyone talked about it, but no one really asked Jonathan Bernier what went wrong. Here’s what he has to say.


JT: What happened on the day of the incident?

JB: MLSE (Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment) asked me to attend this event to represent the Leafs. Before I left home to go to the Air Canada Center, I received a brief with information about the cause and the players who would be there.

When I arrived there, I was nervous. It was my first red carpet. Full camera flashes. The first question I was asked was « what do you know, or do you remember Nelson Mandela? »

At that point, time stopped, everything froze, I had a blackout.

First, I was so nervous. Second, as I tried to mentally review what I had previously received, all I had in mind was the description of the players. I felt like a pressure, a pressure getting stronger, I cracked. Completely forgot the original question and tried to pull out something.

Right after the conclusion of the interview, I knew what I had said. It came back to mind. I thought, « I just f * cked up. I just f*cked up big time. »

And I know who’s Nelson Mandela; he’s definitely not a hockey player. I immediately called my agent to tell him. We did not know what to expect.

JT: How did this incident affect you?

JB: The hardest part was the impact on my family and my close friends.

They heard about it all the time. Constantly, people were asking what happened, how come I didn’t know whom Mandela was? That was the hardest. I’m just thinking about my son. If he had been older and had been in school; maybe other kids would of made fun of him.

I got chirped hard on social media, but it wasn’t bad face to face. I think people were afraid to ask me about it. And that’s okay. I am a professional athlete; I’m used to the media, being criticized by people. It’s ok. It’s part of life.

I made a mistake, but it’s the people close to me who got affected.

And that’s what affected me the most. I thought it was harder for them than for me.

JT: Looking back, how do you perceive this incident?

JB: Things happen. It is by making mistakes that you grow and become a better person. Now, when I show up to events, I am prepared to face the questions.

I like to get involved with charities. No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them.

JT: Do you have any advice for young players who will arrive in the league?

JB: I came into the league at 19, so I have seen the evolution of media. Now there are cameras on phones. You can make one stupid thing one evening after a couple of drinks, and the next day it’s all over the place. Young players really need to be careful and think about their family. Especially if they’re in a big market, but even in a smaller market, the info is going to spread.

When it comes to using social networks, you need to be careful especially on the spur of the moment. If you’re emotional, you can say something you’ll regret, and you cannot delete it.


After our discussion, I walked him back to his car. I handed him my business card. It’s a drawing of his girlfriend hugging the Stanley Cup. This discussion made me realize that through this crisis, Jonathan Bernier has mostly thought of the impact on his family before thinking about him…

PS. If you feel like giving internet LOVE to the Leafs goaltender, you can now follow him on Instagram @JoBernier45.