Playing for a higher cause
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 16:03
After speaking to women’s basketball forward Christa Baccas, I sat back and thought to myself: ‘How can athletes do this?’
How can anyone deal with such trying and emotional moments off the field and perform to their highest capabilities in a game? Sometimes, athletes perform beyond what we thought possible.
As Baccas was preparing for high school games, she dreamed of playing collegiate basketball. She knew in the back of her head that her mother was battling cancer and holding the family together.
One thing we never predict is when our last day will be – or the last for a loved one. Everyone reacts differently to such painful moments, but almost inexplicably to me, there are many stories of athletes who’ve triumphed shortly after these tragic stages.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith’s younger brother – whom he helped raise – died in a motorcycle accident less than 24 hours before he was set to take the field against the Patriots on national television.
Smith admitted he was unsure if he would play and nobody knew until a few hours before kickoff. He decided to play and, boy, did he perform. The wide receiver caught six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ one-point victory.
I can’t imagine leaving my house hours after hearing my brother had passed away, let alone play in a game. Some tragic events affect more than just one person, even an entire pro sports community.
“ChuckStrong” took the sports community by storm when the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia. The team – which recorded only two wins the season before – went on to win 11 games and advance to postseason play. You couldn’t have found a Colts fan to predict a postseason berth before this season. However, players rallied behind their coach, even shaved their heads in the process – to resemble Pagano’s bald head after treatments of chemotherapy – to put together one of the most unexpected seasons in NFL history.
Just like Baccas, the Colts found motivation from such a scary moment. The stories go beyond the gridiron.
In Aug. 2003, Barry Bonds’ father passed away. After a week away from baseball, Bonds returned and hit a home run in his first game back. Say what you will about him as a cheater, but you can’t get mental strength from a needle.
“The emotions just went through me,” Bonds said to ESPN.com. “I felt lightheaded and couldn’t stop my heart rate from racing. After the home run, I couldn’t breathe. I tried to stay in there as long as I could. That’s never happened to me.”
Tragic moments bring people together. Sometimes, they can solidify a country or city.
Sept. 21, 2001. Ten days after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, the first sporting event was held in New York City. The New York Mets faced off against their long-time rival, the Atlanta Braves. This was unlike any game the two had played. New Yorkers and those from Atlanta had the same enemy this night and he was far from the stadium. However, the game provided relief.
The stadium was quiet after the Braves took a one-run lead in the eighth inning. Mike Piazza erased that with one swing of the bat. He drove a ball deep over the left-centerfield wall to give the Mets the final lead of the game. As Piazza rounded the bases, New Yorkers forgot about the horrid events that had occurred 10 days prior.
These stories just go to show the true strength of professional and amateur athletes and how they can bring a family, or even a country, together. Strength is not measured in the size of one’s biceps; it’s how you handle adversity.
One thing athletes know how to do is show respect to the fallen. Say what you want about many of their enormous egos, but when tragedy strikes, they pull together and honor the lives of their friends or families the best way they know how – performing and entertaining.
Brett Favre said it best following his 399-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 41-7 victory on Monday Night Football – a day after his fathers’ death.
“I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” Favre said to ESPN.com. “I love him so much, and I love this game. It’s meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn't expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight.”
Motivation is a funny thing. Some get it from music, reading or “haters,” but when you play for a person or a cure, it brings out a performance that just leaves people saying, ‘Wow.’