Whether a fan or not, sometimes sport means so much more than just what’s happening on the field. Sure, we can cheer when our favourite athletes make a great play or jeer when the teams we love to hate step onto our home turf, but every now and then, sport goes beyond the stats. We take a break from the typical fandom of a certain player or team and become unified as one, and it is at these times when sport is at its most powerful, most impactful, and most influential.One such moment took place just this week in the form of a Craig Anderson (@CraigAnderson41) shutout. While there is reason enough for fans of the Ottawa Senators (@Senators) and Anderson to cheer for his perfect night in net, there was more to it than just the zero on the scoreboard. In a time when the NHL (@NHL) is in the midst of their #HockeyFightsCancer campaign, Anderson was recently forced to leave his team to be with his wife Nicholle, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. But after an injury in the crease for Ottawa, Anderson (with the blessing of his wife) came back to the team to step up between the pipes. And step up he did.
Going up against the Western Conference’s top team, and one of the most impressive offensive juggernauts in the league so far this season, Anderson was in tough against the Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers). With the weight of his family’s news on his mind, one could only imagine how he would handle the next two and a half hours. But, as the final seconds ticked away and the buzzer sounded solidifying the Senators’ 2-0 victory, we wondered no more.
It was a touching tribute to Anderson and his wife, when each Ottawa player congratulated their net-minder, when his counterpart Cam Talbot stayed on the ice to lend his applause to Anderson’s efforts, and when Anderson was announced as the game’s first star only to come out to the roaring ovation of the crowd in the opposition’s building. This night was the true embodiment of #HockeyFightsCancer and the actions of all of those involved meant a great deal more than what occurred on the ice.
Another moment that will forever remain one of the most powerful in sport happened this past season in the MLB (@MLB). In a year that saw a number of impressive plays and performances, it was an off-field incident that sparked something even grander. The entire baseball world was devastated by the loss of Miami Marlins (@Marlins) starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (@JDFernandez16) at the age of 24. The boating accident that took his life made waves across the league and beyond, but perhaps nobody was more affected than teammate Dee Gordon (@FlashGJr).
The images of Gordon dealing with Fernandez’s passing will forever remain some of the most emotional in sport, but the team’s first game action following their pitcher’s death saw something unbelievable. Gordon, who penned a touching tribute on his Instagram, took his first pitch of his first at bat on the opposite side of the plate, while wearing Fernandez’s helmet. After honouring the late pitcher in this manner, Gordon honoured him in a much bigger way, blasting his first home run of the season over the right field wall. With tears flowing down his face as he rounded the bases, with teammates sharing hugs filled with an endless number of emotions, and with fans of the Marlins and beyond bursting into cheers in the stands, this was truly a story from the heavens. And in those surreal #JDF16 moments, we had no choice but to once again ask ourselves, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”
These moments, meanwhile, are not new and go well beyond just this year. We can look back on the events of the Boston Marathon (@bostonmarathon) just a few years ago that brought tragedy to one of the most renowned cities in the entire world. Amidst the fallout of the bombing, the world once again witnessed the power of sport and just how impressive the industry can be in transcending the playing surface. In this case, people will remember the sight of Yankee Stadium patrons singing their biggest rival’s iconic song; the passionate speech that David Ortiz (@davidortiz) delivered to the Fenway Park faithful upon his return to the line-up; the sight of the countless law enforcement agencies’ hats being worn by Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) players during warm-ups; and the driving message that the sporting world helped to deliver time and time again – #BostonStrong.
Such emotional times can also spread to the gridiron, where one of the best quarterbacks of all-time brought fans near and far together with one of the gutsiest performances ever recorded. Just one day after his father passed away, Brett Favre (@Favre4Official) tallied one of the most impressive games of his illustrious career. No one expected Favre to play, but not only did he play (for an NFL (@NFL) record 205th consecutive game), he torched the Oakland Raiders (@RAIDERS) for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns en route to a 41-7 win. Even in the debilitating loss that all but sealed the Raiders’ playoff fate, the road crowd, well-known for their relentless jeers, applauded Favre’s heroic effort, as the football world witnessed a performance likely never to be repeated in those circumstances.
So whether it deals with death, tragedy, or grand emotion, the point remains that sport can make it mean so much more and it can have nothing to do with who wins and who loses. These performances and efforts, among many others, may have happened on the field, but it was what they meant off of it that helps to make sport so influential.