Inspiring Sports Moments: These Athletes Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity
All too often, high emotion and building tension at sporting events eventually boil over in an ugly way. Be it fans or athletes, everyone has a breaking point when there’s so much riding on each game. But, for all of the ugly moments that happen inside stadiums that make us lose faith in mankind, there are just as many inspiring sports moments when fans and athletes restore our faith in humanity.
These are the moments that remind us what sports are really all about. Check out some of the most incredible stories of triumph, heartwarming gestures of sportsmanship, and genuine acts of kindness from athletes of all levels.
1. Jerrell Freeman Saves Choking Victim
One of the more unexpected inspiring sports moments happened as 2017 summer vacation was coming to an end. Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman was enjoying a final cheat meal of brisket in the Austin, TX airport. Soon, his flight would take off and he’d be on his way back to Chicago to gear up for another NFL season. That’s when he noticed something wrong.
A couple seats over, a man rose quickly in a panic. When Freeman noticed the man’s distressed actions were a result of the man choking, the linebacker lept into action. Freeman performed the Heimlich maneuver on the choking stranger. Thanks to his quick thinking, the fast-acting NFL linebacker touched down in Chicago a hero.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins Fan Pays It Forward
Jimmy Mains, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and police officer in the city’s neighboring suburb, had trouble selling off a spare ticket before a 2017 Pens home game. Unable to sell the spare ticket, Mains brought the extra with him to the game and ended up doing something amazing with it.
When Mains passed a homeless man asking for money, he offered up his extra seat instead.
The man’s new friend, who introduced himself as Rob, was ecstatic throughout the game. Mains posted a picture of the two on Facebook, explaining that he asked nothing more in return than for Rob to take his memorable night and pay it forward.
3. Clifford Ray Saves Dolphin
Clifford Ray earned a reputation as one of the tougher defenders in the NBA during his decade of play (1971-81). Ray was an undersized (6’9″) center who was able to shut down big men thanks to his gritty style and remarkable wingspan.
Little did Ray know his incredible reach would come in handy for far more than swatting shots and shutting down centers. While playing with the Golden State Warriors in 1978, Ray received a call from Marine World, a tourist attraction in nearby Redwood City. There was an emergency involving Dr. Spock – no, not Marine World’s veterinarian, just their awesomely named dolphin – that would require Ray’s XL arms to help.
Dr. Spock (seriously, how awesome must this dolphin be?) had accidentally swallowed a bolt. To avoid internal damage from surgery, the park needed Ray to fish it out. As if that wasn’t weird enough, Ray learned an odd lesson while reaching into that dolphin. The creatures have not one, but two stomachs. That didn’t stop Ray from saving the day by pulling out the shiny obstruction.
What’s cooler than saving a dolphin’s life with your bare hands? The two-time NBA champion stated that, since Dr. Spock was not sedated, the intelligent animal remembered his savior. Ray said that whenever he would visit the park, his aquatic mammalian friend would “always come up and acknowledge I was there.”
4. Corey Linsley Bonds With Young Packers Fan
The Green Bay Packers have a unique tradition of players riding children’s bikes to practice on the first day of training camp. It’s unclear exactly how or when this started, but the fun ritual is believed to date back to the 1960s.
In 2014, rookie center Corey Linsley added an extra layer to this tradition. His small gesture eventually blossomed into so much more. Linsley paired up with young Packers superfan Travis Kohlbeck.
Linsley took his ride with Kohlbeck and learned that his mother had recently been hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage. The story could have ended with Linsley’s next kind gesture – buying Kohlbeck a new bike to help take his mind off the tough situation. But that was only the beginning.
The fan-favorite center took Kohlbeck under his wing. They’ve maintained a close relationship over the years, with both families treating the other as their own. Even Chicago Bears fans can put aside their beef with Cheeseheads and tip their caps to this heartwarming story.
5. MLB Umpire Saves Woman’s Life
As an MLB umpire, John Tumpane is no stranger to situations with a lot on line, where emotions run high. Still, Tumpane’s cool demeanor inside the stadium could only prepare him so much for the life or death situation he found himself in before a Pirates-Rays game in Pittsburgh, PA. While walking on the Roberto Clemente Bridge on June 24, 2017, Tumpane saw a woman climb over the railing.
Tumpane hurried over to the woman to see what she was doing. Then, he wrapped his arms around her before she could jump or fall off, holding on while passersby called police. Eventually, others jumped to his aid to hold the woman until police arrived.
As if saving the woman’s life wasn’t enough, Tumpane made sure to emphasize the value of her life while he held onto her. Even though she claimed no one cared, he told her “I care.” Tumpane isn’t the only selfless sports figure from the MLB to lend a helping hand.
6. Yankees Manager Helps Woman On Highway After World Series Win
In 2009, the New York Yankees took down the Philadelphia Phillies to claim their 27th World Series title. Since the Yanks won the pennant in the Bronx, manager Joe Girardi didn’t have to wait to return home (after a proper celebration, of course). Around 2:30 am, Girardi was taking the Cross County Parkway home when he saw that a woman had crashed into a wall.
Like a true good Samaritan, Girardi pulled over to see if the woman was okay and if she needed assistance, trying to flag down a police officer until help arrived.
There are a lot of ways to celebrate after winning a World Series title. For most, helping someone in need on the highway is not on that list. Girardi’s good deed is one of the inspiring sports moments that helps restore our faith in humanity.
7. Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle Quits Football To Pursue Another Dream
Myron Rolle enjoyed a football career that any athlete would envy. After dominating on one of the biggest teams in college football – Florida State – for three years, the star safety did the unthinkable. Rolle decided to leave FSU after his third year, but not to declare for the NFL draft. Rolle left to attend Oxford University after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
Initially projected to be a second-round pick, Rolle dropped to a sixth-round pick in 2010 when he took time off to study at Oxford during his senior year (2009-10). The decision likely cost him millions. That didn’t matter to Rolle, because his ultimate goal has never been to become an NFL star. Instead, Rolle’s goal is to become a neurosurgeon.
Rolle graduated from the Florida State University College of Medicine in May 2017. He is now doing his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
8. Jacqueline Nytepi Kiplimo Helps Dehydrated Marathon Runner
Jacqueline Nytepi Kiplimo is a dominant marathon runner from Kenya. She has won gold in races around the globe, but it was a second-place finish that made her stand out from the rest. In the 2010 Zhengkai International Marathon (China) Kiplimo showed the world that sportsmanship comes first.
Just 10km into the race, Kiplimo spotted a runner with no arms below the elbows, who appeared to be dehydrated. Kiplimo grabbed a water bottle for the runner and remained with him for a significant portion of the race. Her good deed cost her a first place finish – she placed second – and $10,000.
Kiplimo’s display of selflessness and sportsmanship is truly one of the most inspiring sports moments in history.
9. Track Athlete Carries Injured Teammate To Finish Line
From ugly altercations to ridiculous technicalities, there are a lot of ways athletes can be disqualified from competition. One rule in track and cross country that can lead to a DQ tag if broken is no contact with another runner (including aiding another in finishing). That rule is precisely what this high schooler willingly ignored.
At the Utah Class 6A state championship, junior Blake Lewis from Riverton High School broke his tibia with only 200 meters to go. Proving himself the ultimate teammate, Riverton senior Sean Rausch stopped to pick up Lewis and carry him through the finish line.
They don’t teach incredible gestures like that in school. Still, a few special high school athletes have created inspiring sports moments when they lead by example.
10. Wrestler Willingly Gives Up Undefeated Streak
Norton High School (Norton, MA) wrestler Deven Schuko was a force to be reckoned with, blazing his way through competition to a 27-0 record. In any sport, going the distance to finish with an undefeated record is an incredible accomplishment. But Schuko sacrificed his chance to finish with an undefeated record – in a way that inspired many others.
Schuko willingly gave up his undefeated streak – and he didn’t see it as a loss, either. Schuko faced off against an opponent with Down syndrome and allowed him to win. As Schuko told WCVB-TV, “It was a win-win in my book. He won, I won.”
11. Michael Sam Makes Big Announcement
Michael Sam was a star defensive end at the University of Missouri. Sam finished his senior year (2013) with with numerous accolades: All-American, First-Team All-SEC and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Expected to be drafted somewhere around the third or fourth round, Sam boldly stepped forward and publicly announced that he is gay before the draft.
This big announcement made Sam the first openly homosexual athlete to potentially play in the NFL. Uncertain of how the public would react to his news, Sam willingly risked a potentially lucrative career in the name of progress.
When Sam was finally drafted in the seventh round, cameras captured an emotional, powerful moment. Sam shared the accomplishment (and a very big kiss) with his partner on national television. His courage represents one of the most inspiring sports moments for all football fans.
12. Kevin Durant Thanks The Real MVP
In 2014, Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant earned the NBA’s prestigious MVP award. Durant, who grew up without his father through much of his childhood, delivered an unforgettable speech thanking everyone who helped him reach this point, especially his mom. It’s hard to watch this video without getting choked up.
The MVP speaks of his mother’s unbridled love and sacrifices, which ensured her son could have the opportunities he has today. The speech resonates with anyone, basketball fan or not. Durant’s speech is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring sports moments of all time.
“You the real MVP.” Try not to get teary-eyed hearing that line.
13. Coach Jim Valvano Gives Inspiring Speech
Jim Valvano was a beloved college basketball coach. He was respected throughout college sports for both his team’s success on the court and his infectious positive attitude in life. Valvano demonstrated his inspiring attitude not only by coaching his NC State team to the 1983 national championship, but also at the 1993 ESPY awards with a speech for the ages.
The speech was delivered amidst Valvano’s battle with cancer. During the speech, he announced the start of the Jimmy V Foundation and uttered the now-famous motto, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
Only two months after his incredible speech, Valvano lost his battle with cancer. His inspiring words, though, continue to live on through the Jimmy V Foundation.
14. Stuart Scott Stays Dedicated To Sports Fans
Longtime ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott was a network staple and a favorite amongst colleagues and sports fans alike. In 2007, Scott had an appendectomy, during which he learned that his appendix was cancerous. After going into remission, Scott fought two more diagnoses in 2011 and 2013. The way Scott refused to let his fans down throughout his illness was incredible.
Fans loved to see Scott’s face and hear his classic lines (“Boo ya!”), and Scott felt equally compelled to remain on screen – despite the extreme physical toll the cancer took on his body.
Week by week, Scott continually appeared thinner on screen. Yet, he never lost his composure or showed signs of mental fatigue during his work. In his final appearance on ESPN six months before his death, Scott delivered a powerful speech on never giving up the fight with cancer.
15. Autistic HS Basketball Team Manager Has Big Game
High school senior Jason McElwain was the perfect team manager for the Greece Athena high school basketball team. He handled all the necessary duties, going above and beyond in his responsibilities, even throwing on a shirt and tie for the games. The 17-year-old autistic student manager simply wanted to be a part of the team, since at 5’6″ he was too small to make the cut as a player.
Then the Greece Athena basketball team ended up surprising McElwain in an amazing way.
In the final game of the season, McElwain was allowed to suit up with the team. With about four minutes left in the game, Greece Athena’s lead gave McElwain an opportunity to sub in, and he did not disappoint. After missing his first two shots, McElwain went off, burying six three-pointers, making him an overnight national sensation.
McElwain’s inspiring moment quickly reflected his big game which, as he put it, was “hot as a pistol.”
16. NBA Honors Craig Sager
Longtime sports reporter Craig Sager has been a household name for decades, mostly known for his years of work as a sideline reporter for The NBA on TNT. Sager’s effervescent personality was complemented perfectly by his wild outfit choices. His wardrobe often became the focal point of his interviews with players and commentators.
Sager’s fun-loving attitude never left him, even when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014. After a bone marrow transplant, the cancer eventually went into remission only to return in 2015.
Sager lost his battle in December 2016, and the NBA paid a special tribute to him. The league honored Sager’s unforgettable sense of style with players wearing some outlandish warmups. It was a fun tribute, perfect to celebrate a man whose style and attitude always brought joy to so many.
17. Andy Roddick Owns Up
At the 2009 Rome Masters Series, American tennis star Andy Roddick faced Spain’s Fernando Verdasco. Roddick, in his prime, was the top ranked player in the tournament. He held a 5-3 lead and a triple break point when Verdasco seemingly double faulted to lose the match.
In an act of sportsmanship for the ages, Roddick was not so quick to take the points.
Roddick actually challenged the call, claiming Verdasco’s serve was inbounds. Verdasco took advantage, coming back to win the match, then three straight series.
It’s a safe bet that Roddick did not expect such an impressive comeback from his opponent. Nonetheless, he knew the risk, accepted it and paid the price. Respect.
18. Paolo di Canio Plays Nice
In a Premier League showdown between Everton and West Ham in December 2000, a memorable moment came with about seven minutes left in the game. With the game knotted in a 1-1 tie, Paolo di Canio had an opportunity to seal the game when he got the ball with an open shot on goal. The shot was almost too easy to take.
Indeed, di Canio saw why his opportunity was so easy: Everton goal keeper Paul Gerrard appeared to have suffered a serious injury. Rather than knocking the ball in and deal with the situation after, di Canio – who was notorious for his rough play – showed trued sportsmanship. He stopped, picking up the ball and gesturing that Gerrard needed help.
It may have cost West Ham the win, but di Canio’s great example showed what sports are all about.
19. Maurice Cheeks Steps In To Sing
Before a 2003 NBA playoff game between the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers, eighth grader Natalie Gilbert stepped onto the court to sing the national anthem. With all eyes on her, the young girl lost her head and forgot the words. What happened next created one of the NBA’s most unforgettable and inspiring sports moments.
As Gilbert froze, then-Blazers head coach Maurice Cheeks stepped next to the young singer and turned her solo performance into a duet. Cheeks may not have had the most impressive pipes, but his kindness spread like wildfire. Pretty soon, the entire arena was singing along.
Cheeks was an All-Star player in his day, but this move as a coach made him a real hero.
21. NBA Drafts Isaiah Austin
Midway through the first round of the 2014 NBA draft, a special and inspiring moment came. As the clocked ticked down before the Chicago Bulls would make the 16th overall pick, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver delivered a heartfelt speech. Silver announced the NBA’s honorary selection of Baylor center Isaiah Austin.
Just days earlier, Austin had received the devastating news that he could no longer play basketball after being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome. It was a small gesture, but one that clearly meant the world to Austin. The crowd gave Austin a standing ovation, and Silver offered Austin a job with the NBA.
22. Todd Frazier Makes A Wish Come True
In 2013, the Cincinnati Reds hosted a Miami Marlins team that was enduring massive struggles. When the Reds took over, even with a 9-1 lead, it wasn’t exactly the biggest deal. That being said, Todd Frazier’s two-runner homer in the sixth inning to make it an 11-1 game was absolutely fantastic.
Teddy Kremer, a Reds superfan with Down syndrome, was the team’s honorary bat boy for the game. Kremer requested an out-of-the-park favor of Frazier. So when Frazier delivered in style, Kremer did not hide his excitement.
This special home run is definitely among the most inspiring sports moments in baseball.
23. Runner Carries Her Fallen Competitor
Junior long distance runner Meghan Vogel entered Ohio’s 2012 Division III state championship with the goal of winning it all. That’s exactly what she did in the 1,600m race. But what Vogel did in her next race was truly worthy of a standing ovation. In the final stretch of the 3,200m race, sophomore Arden McMath collapsed.
Vogel, who was behind her exhausted opponent, did what she believed any competitor would have done for her. She stopped to help.
Vogel picked up McMath and helped carry her through the finish line. The 3,200m may not have turned out as well as the 1,600m did for Vogel, but her selfless act swept the nation off its feet.
24. Father Rescues His Olympian Son
Grab the tissues – there wasn’t a dry eye in the world after this incredible moment at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
First, flash back to the ’88 Summer Games. Just moments before his 400m race began, British sprinter Derek Redmond had to withdraw due to hamstring issues. Now, fast forward to the ’92 Summer Games, when Redmond’s hamstring presented an issue again. Except it was far worse this time.
About halfway through the race, Redmond tore his hamstring. After going down, the 26-year-old rose, refusing to let his hamstring keep him from reaching the finish line again. Redmond began limping his way through a heart wrenching 200m.
As the crowd rose to applaud the courageous athlete, a man burst onto the track to aid the young man. It was Redmond’s father.
Together, the father and son duo finished that long lap around the track. The compelling scene has since become one of the most inspiring sports moments in Olympic history.
25. Justin Wren Fights For The Forgotten
Justin Wren has been a fighter his entire life. In high school, Wren was a two-time All-American and a 2005 national champion. After an injury put his college wrestling career on hold, Wren decided to give MMA a shot.
Wren attracted national attention competing in season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter in 2009. He went on to a successful fighting career that made for an impressive 10-2 record. Then, completely out of the blue, Wren put everything on hold.
Wren had decided that he needed to take his fight outside of the octagon, WAY outside. He directed his efforts towards remote areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, helping to free enslaved Pygmy tribes that have experienced a dearth of horrors. To help, Wren began his Fight for the Forgotten foundation.
The former fighter completely dropped everything to go live with the Pygmy people and help them overcome many struggles. Wren and his foundation raise money to help bring water filters to establish sustainable access to water, amongst other needs.
This athlete’s selflessness is changing many lives around the world.
26. Lou Gehrig Bids Farewell To Baseball
On July 4, 1939, New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig delivered his famed farewell speech.
After years of sheer dominance, Gehrig found himself inexplicably losing strength. His declining condition continued to hinder his performance on the field to an ever greater degree. Eventually, Gehrig met with renowned surgeon Charles William Mayo at the eponymous Mayo Clinic on June 13.
On June 19, the Mayo Clinic publicly released Gehrig’s diagnosis of ALS.
Gehrig delivered his retirement speech in front of a sold out Yankee Stadium with all of the New York greats in attendance.
Often referred to as “baseball’s Gettysburg Address,” Gehrig’s remarks still resonate with baseball fans today. In a famous line from the speech, Gehrig expressed feeling fortunate despite his bad break, saying “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
The momentous occasion is one of the most inspiring sports moments in American history.
27. Basketball Player Misses Free Throws On Purpose
A 2009 high school basketball game between rivals Milwaukee Madison (WI) and DeKalb High School (IL) began with one notable player absent. Milwaukee Madison’s co-captain, senior Johntell Franklin, was missing as the big game started.
As it turned out, Franklin wasn’t there because his mother, who had been battling cancer, was rushed to the hospital earlier that day and sadly passed away. When Franklin arrived at the game in the second quarter, something incredible happened.
Franklin was shaken, but ready to play. Since Franklin’s name was not initially on the Milwaukee Madison roster before the game, DeKalb was awarded two free throws for the late name entry. Given the circumstances, DeKalb head coach Dave Rohlman pleaded with officials to make an exception to the rule. Still, the refs held firm and insisted that the technical foul must be enforced.
Despite the close two-point game, the DeKalb free throw shooter shot both attempts just a couple feet ahead, intentionally missing.
The crowd broke into applause. In one of the purest displays of sportsmanship, the two rival teams forged an unbreakable bond. This story is heartwarming enough to give any sports fan goosebumps.
28. HS Quarterback Rejects Record
When an athlete has the opportunity to set a record and leave a legacy, they usually do anything possible to make that dream come true. That is, unless the athlete happens to be Springfield Southeast High School (IL) quarterback Nate Haasis.
The remarkable athlete’s high school football career almost had a fairy tale ending. Haasis broke the conference record of 4,998 career passing yards on the final play of his last game in 2003. Except it wasn’t quite so simple.
Haasis learned that when a timeout was called with under a minute left on the clock, both his and the opposing team’s head coach allowed the opposing team to score. They did so to allow Haasis to get the ball back for his (uncontested) record-setting throw.
Haasis formally requested that his final drive be rescinded from his stats after finding out about the backdoor deal the coaches made to get it done. Haasis finished short of the conference record with 4,969 passing yards. However, the young man showed maturity and conviction years ahead of his time.
29. Football Fans Root For Rival Team
There was nothing normal about this 2008 Texas high school football game between Gainesville State School and Grapevine Faith.
Gainesville is a juvenile correctional facility, so the atmosphere was understandably different. However, a kind act by Grapevine Faith made this game truly unforgettable. Grapevine’s head coach, Chris Hogan, realized before the game that Gainesville’s team would not have many parents and fans of their own to attend games.
So Hogan took matters into his own hands. The Grapevine coach sent an email out, requesting that some of his school’s fans sit on the visitors’ side to root for Gainesville.
The fans obliged, giving Gainesville the experience of playing with a group of fans rooting for them for the first time. Even after losing, Gainesville players openly spoke about how much the gesture meant to them, making them feel truly loved. The story was so touching, it even inspired a film.
30. Michael Jordan Respects A Super Fan
Michael Jordan has been a worldwide sensation since he entered the NBA in 1984. Even after retiring many years ago, MJ has a massive following.
Of all the super fans who have loyally followed Jordan for years, one truly stands out. No one has repped their love for the GOAT quite like Jeffrey Harrison.
A video surfaced of Harrison, who is autistic, playing a pickup basketball game at the park. Harrison was decked out in a full-on Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls uniform: jersey, shorts, matching arm band, and Air Jordans. Many poked fun at the over-the-top getup, even though they knew nothing about Harrison.
When the GOAT himself heard about his mega fan, he made a personal call to Harrison. Not only that, MJ sent Harrison loads of sick gear to rock in his future pickup games. Harrison receiving these gifts from his idol is one of the most inspiring sports moments ever.