Few social events inspire quite as much feeling as sports. Most of the time, of course, these heightened emotions are generated by events that happen on the field, like an unexpected victory, an ill-judged call by a referee, or a tragic defeat.
Other times, as with the various controversies afflicting athletics over the years, these feelings arise from something off the field. However, for every bit of negative publicity surrounding the world of sports, just as many heartwarming stories exist, all of which serve as timely reminders of the goodness of humanity. Vote up your favorites!
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Japanese Soccer Fans Helped Clean The Stadium After Their Team's 2022 World Cup Loss
The World Cup is, of course, the most important event in the world of soccer, so unsurprisingly, the matches tend to bring out both the best and worst in people. This is particularly true when it comes to a loss, an event that can often lead to property damage. In the case of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, however, a loss led to something truly heartwarming, when Japanese fans began to clean up after their team’s loss to Costa Rica.
This moment of altruism was more than a little surprising to soccer fans elsewhere in the world, particularly the US, where navigating the detritus left behind by previous spectators is par for the course. According to several of the fans involved with the cleanup effort, doing so was not only a cultural tradition in Japan - where the tidiness in public spaces is looked upon fondly and where individual responsibility is expected - but also a way of respecting the host nation. As volunteer cleaner Eiji Hattori put it:
It’s a sign of respect for a place. This place is not ours, so we should clean up if we use it. And even if it is not our garbage, it’s still dirty, so we should clean it up.
It’s easy for those who make a great deal of money in sports to lose sight of where they came from. But not NBA star Bismack Biyombo. He took a break from basketball to care for his ailing father; after the latter’s passing, Biyombo returned, but with something very special in store: a donation of his $1.3 million 2022 salary to build a hospital in Lubumbashi, his hometown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Bismack Biyombo Foundation will distribute the money.
“I told my agent my salary for this year would be going to the construction of a hospital back home to give hope to the hopeless,” Biyombo said in an interview. He went on to explain:
I want to be able to give them better conditions so that they can somewhat have hope that their loved ones will be able to live and see another day.
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Damar Hamlin's Toy Drive Raised More Than $8 Million After His Cardiac Arrest
Damar Hamlin’s grievous January 2, 2023 injury during the football game between the Buffalo Bills (his team) and the Cincinnati Bengals was a stunning moment for televised sports, and a harrowing experience for the player, who continues to make a slow recovery.
A starting safety for the Bills since early 2022, Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after colliding with another player; first responders re-started his heart via defibrillator on the field. Outside of football, he had also been notable for a toy drive, for which he intended to raise at least $2,500 for children in need. It had earned a little less than $3,000 before his accident.
In the hours and days after his cardiac arrest, things changed dramatically. Fans of both the Bills and numerous other teams flocked to his GoFundMe page, and the fundraiser had soon soared to more than $8 million in donations. Many of those who contributed left heartfelt messages; one particularly moving note from Michael Lynch read:
There are moments in life that stop the world. We all pray for two things. Your speedy recovery and that your impact to the world is enhanced by your go fund me.
Few objects are as esteemed and hard to attain as Olympic medals, which rightfully have much symbolic and emotional value, particularly for the athletes who earn them. This makes it all the more extraordinary that Piotr Malachowski, the Polish discus thrower who took home the silver at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, auctioned off his medal to help Olek Szymanski, a young boy undergoing treatment for retinoblastoma, a pediatric eye cancer.
After Olek’s mother contacted Malachowski asking for help, the Olympian asked his fans to spread the word about the auction. As he wrote in Polish on his Facebook page:
For an athlete, to win an Olympic medal is a dream come true… however, fate has given me a chance to increase the value of my silver.
Malachowski went on to explain: “In Rio I fought for gold. Today I make an appeal to everyone - let’s fight together for something that is even more valuable. If you help him, my silver medal might be more valuable to Olek than gold.” Not surprisingly, the medal sold soon afterward.
Losing a family member, particularly a parent, can be a harrowing experience. Aydin Laborde was only 5 when he lost his father to a brain aneurysm in 2022. Stefon Diggs, who plays for the Buffalo Bills, decided to do something special for the bereaved young man.
Not only did Diggs sign a football for Laborde; he also presented him with a specially made pair of Nike shoes, decorated with the team’s colors and a picture of the boy and his late father.
As Diggs explained in a tweet:
Not many know what it’s like to lose [their] daddy for real. I remember it felt like i lost everything. I had to make myself a man. But it takes a village so be sure to always pay it forward !!! Love that is Merry Christmas lil Aydin
The wide receiver is no stranger to grief, having lost his own father Aron to heart failure in 2008; he was just 39.
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A Boy's Cancer Fight Inspired The Nebraska Cornhuskers To Win The Biggest Comeback In Their History
Many of the most inspiring and heartwarming sports stories are those involving a whole team. Indeed, there are few stories more inspiring than those that involve coming back from almost certain defeat to score a victory. This's exactly what happened with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who were inspired by the travails of 7-year-old Jack Hoffman’s struggle with brain cancer.
About a month before Jack's October 2011 second life-saving surgery, Jack’s father Andy contacted the Cornhuskers to see if the boy could meet them, particularly his favorite player, Rex Burkhead. This brave boy, who had endured so much, inspired the team to make an extraordinary comeback during their game with Ohio State. They went from being down 14 points at halftime to scoring the biggest comeback in school history. As Burkhead remarked:
Jack was the inspiration. We were dog-tired, but looking down and knowing what he was going through, there was no way I was going to give up.
The team even went so far as to invite Hoffman onto the field to celebrate - a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary story. As of 2022, Jack was a high school junior and football player himself. The remains of his brain tumor are kept in check by targeted drug therapies via an ongoing clinical trial.