One of the beautiful things about sports are their ability to deliver captivating moments when we least expect it as fans. We watch because of the game, but oftentimes we remember because of what happens off the field or court of competition.
This past week provided us with three more sports moments worth our attention, contemplation, and celebration.
Moment 1: Childhood friends square off with the game on the line
Let’s start with a baseball game. A little context before you watch the video. The winner of the game goes to the state championship. The pitcher and the batter are childhood friends. The game is down to the final out and the batter has two strikes against him. Watch what happens next:
The moment is worth championing on multiple levels.
There is nothing wrong with the rest of the winning team jumping around celebrating in a unified mob. God created us to celebrate when things go well. It completes the experience. To neglect the opportunity to celebrate would leave us feeling like we had one final piece of a puzzle that we just decided not to fit into place. The pitcher dodges his incoming teammates and makes a straight line to his childhood friend.
I have no idea. I can guess, but ultimately, I don’t know why he pressed pause on the celebration to embrace/console his friend. It looked planned—in the best possible way—as if he knew if he struck him out, he was going to move towards him. Regardless of whether his motivation was to act like Jesus in that moment—he did. He could have chosen the option to celebrate with his teammates, but he chose an option nobody expected and one that is rarely seen in a time like that.
He chose love.
Moment 2: Soccer superstar makes time for a young fan
The second moment comes courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo, who apparently boarded the team bus on the way to the World Cup before one of his fans—a young boy—has the opportunity to see him walk by. Check out what Cristiano does when he learns that the young boy is in tears:
A young fan thought he'd missed the chance to meet his hero as Portugal departed for the World Cup.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 11, 2018
Cristiano stepped off the bus and made sure his dream came true. pic.twitter.com/r3qERFy8Vz
Let me ask you this: if I were to tell you to give me 30 cents right now and I could promise you a return of $3,000, would you do it? Of course you would. It’s called a good investment. It’s good stewardship of your money.
That is what happened in this video. Cristiano gave 30 seconds of his time to engage with this kid—and the kid will be telling this story for the next 30 years.
He will be telling the story of how Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bus to talk to him, not a huge crowd of kids or fans, but him personally.
He will be telling the story the story of how one of the greatest soccer players ever wiped tears from his eyes so he wouldn't look like he was still crying when the picture was taken.
He will be telling the story of how he kissed Ronaldo on the cheek and Ronaldo kissed his.
Cristiano was a good steward of his platform as an athlete and his brief investment into this kid’s life will be remembered for a long time. In that moment he gave this child a sense of identity. By engaging with the kid, he communicated “You matter, not because of your performance, but just because.” Athletes and coaches would do well to watch this interaction. Our platform in the context of sports mean we can have an enormous impact with very little time spent.
Moment 3: As inside look at a coach/player postgame celebration
It’s really easy to look good as a coach when things go well. It’s especially easy when your team has just won its second consecutive NBA championship and minutes after the buzzer sounds you are congratulating your players. But I want you to listen to what Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr says to Quinn Cook after the Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Steve Kerr and Quinn Cook shared a cool moment after becoming NBA Champs.— ESPN (@espn) June 10, 2018
This is what it's all about. pic.twitter.com/DxM5tyOrXD
Coaches, did you catch what he did? He did not just say “Congrats, you played awesome! We did it!” He did not scream or yell. He took an almost fatherly tone with his player.
He said “I’m so happy for YOU.” He made this moment about the player.
He said “You helped us win playoff games.” He affirmed his role on the team and was specific about what Quinn helped them do. He did not merely say “We couldn’t have done it without you!”
He said “You’ve earned your spot in the NBA.” He affirmed him as a player and a man. On a team with four potential Hall of Famers, Quinn Cook could easily get overlooked. Coach Kerr made an effort to say, “You matter. You belong.”
He said, “I’m so excited to coach you again next year. Love you.” Again, he did not say, “Let’s do this again next year!” He said he loves him and he is excited to coach him again next year. He communicated in that moment, “I am here for you and I am excited about you and your potential.”
Why does any of this matter?
These three moments are a sliver of what makes sports so beautiful and captivating for the rest of us. Against the backdrop of our “normal” sports culture, snapshots of compassion and empathy continue to capture our attention—and keep us fixated to see what could potentially happen next.
What makes these all stand out so significantly is that each individual had good choices in front of them and each one chose the better option. It would have been perfectly fine for the pitcher to celebrate with his teammates. That was not a bad option. Ronaldo could have gotten on the bus because fans are always bidding for his attention. Steve Kerr could have offered the standard congratulatory response. All three individuals simply chose to go above and beyond.
Why does this matter? Because so many people out there don’t believe there is a better option. Check out a few cringe worthy responses toward the pitcher who showed compassion to his friend after striking him out:
This makes me shake with rage the more I see it. As I said elsewhere, this offends me as a youth football coach who preaches killer instinct to my players. I would make a player who did this hold his championship ring as I blowtorch it and melt it, because he doesn’t deserve it.— Three Year Letterman (@3YearLetterman) June 11, 2018
This is absolutely embarrassing. You have 1 moment to celebrate with your teammates who busted their tails w/ you, and you’re going to console a friend who’s upset? Kid is about as soft as it gets. Winners win and embrace it. Take this garbage somewhere else.— Phil Trowbridge (@phil_trowbridge) June 11, 2018
Call me old and crotchety (it's probably true), but I personally find this ridiculous. The pitcher should be celebrating with his teammates. He can call or text his friend later and take him out for "milk shakes" at some point this summer.— Craig MacCormack (@CraigMacCormack) June 11, 2018
By no means do these moments show us the fixed, right way—but they probably offer, at the very least, a better way forward. They show us that the transcendent values of love, compassion, and empathy still have a place in sports. They show us that when we align ourselves with God’s word, regardless of whether or not we are followers of Christ, the world around us will smell the aroma of redemption.
Finally, they show us that in any context across life, simply caring for another human being will have a bigger impact than any trophy we collect—and that’s always worthy of celebration.