20 Heartwarming Sports Moments from 2016

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2016

20 Heartwarming Sports Moments from 2016

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    A simple photograph of a Florida State wide receiver eating lunch with a middle schooler brought joy to many people in 2016. It reinforced what many already know: A small act of kindness can go very far.

    Travis Rudolph's gesture wasn't the only heartwarming moment from the sports world in 2016, not by a long shot. In fact, there were many moments that moved fans around the world, making them smile, laugh or even cry.

    Some of these stories include elements of sadness, but the moments themselves serve to warm up the heart like a cup of cocoa during the holidays. They remind folks of the joy so often found in sportsmanship, kindness and the generosity of the human spirit.

    Here is a sampling of just 20 such moments from 2016—unranked of course, because who can possibly tell another person the scale to which a heartwarming moment should move him or her? 


U12 Barcelona Team Consoles Opponents

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    For anyone familiar with world football, it should come as no real surprise that the Barcelona sides, of all ages, are quite good.

    In August, the Catalan U12s beat Japanese side Omiya Ardija 1-0 in the final of the Junior Soccer World Challenge. Celebration ensued, but eventually the Barca youth noticed several Omiya Ardija players who were visibly upset.

    What happened next was a beautiful display of sportsmanship. The Barcelona players approached their opponents and spent time hugging them and doling out pep talks.

Cubs Fans Write Messages in Chalk

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    The Chicago Cubs' World Series title was one of the (if not the) greatest sports stories of the year in 2016. After 108 titleless years, the "lovable losers" finally broke the famous curse and brought a championship to fans on the north side of Chicago.

    Of course, 108 years is a long time. Many lifelong fans did not get a chance to see the title.

    Such was the inspiration for many Cubs fans to write messages in chalk on the brick wall outside right field at Wrigley Field.

    Some simply wrote "Go Cubs Go!" but, per Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports: "After Game 5 there were dozens of fans who wiped away tears as they wrote their messages on the wall, grasping a small piece of hand-me-down chalk the previous tear-soaked Cubs fan gave them."

Selfie Captures Olympic Spirit

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    Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press

    Every two years, the Olympics serve as a reminder that sports can be a universal language. They have the power to bridge divides: geographical, political and ideological.

    That is part of what made one selfie during the Rio Games so special.

    Two gymnasts, South Korea's Lee Eun-ju and North Korea's Hong Un-jong, took a photo together during training and the image quickly spread. 

    Relations between the two countries are tumultuous. As Kenneth Bachor of Time magazine wrote, "The simple act has been widely praised around the internet as an exercise in good sportsmanship, due to their respective nations' hostile relationship."

Craig Sager Works the NBA Finals

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    Turner Sports' Craig Sager died of cancer in December. From the time of his diagnosis in 2014, the basketball world rallied around the sideline reporter—who could forget his heartwarming interview with famously media-averse San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in December 2015?

    In 2016, Sager worked an NBA Finals game for the first time in his career. Turner and ABC worked together to make it happen.

    Sager worked alongside ESPN's Doris Burke as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors 115-101 in Game 6 and evened the series at three games apiece.

    After the game, Cavs star LeBron James told Sager, per the Associated Press (via NBA.com): "I'm happy to see you, man. Much love and respect. I'm happy I was able to witness it in front of these fans. We really appreciate you."

John Scott Carried off Ice

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    John Scott's inclusion in the 2015-16 NHL All-Star Game was not without controversy.

    Scott was voted in after a successful social media campaign by fans, but the league was not exactly thrilled about the idea of a journeyman enforcer with five career goals suiting up.

    Scott was a fan favorite, though, and his participation in the game did not disappoint. Scott scored two goals as the captain of the Pacific All-Stars, earned MVP honors and was ultimately carried off the ice.

    Florida Panthers winger Jaromir Jagr said, per Shawn Roarke of NHL.com: "You hate to lose, but if I ever wanted to lose, ever, I'm glad I lost today. Everybody thought it was going to be a bad thing for hockey and it's turned out to probably be one of the best stories in hockey."

Sportsmanship After Collision

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    Sportsmanship is at the heart of many of the year's most heartwarming moments, and the Rio Olympics were no exception.

    During a women's 5,000-meter qualifier, Abbey D'Agostino of the United States and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand collided while running inside the pack. Both fell and were effectively taken out of contention.

    They helped each other up, but D'Agostino was slow to finish the race due to an apparent injury. She hobbled to the finish line, and Hamblin was there waiting to greet her.

    Hamblin said, per Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports: "I'm so grateful for Abbey doing that (and making sure that I was OK). That girl is the Olympic spirit right there."

    After a protest, both advanced to the final.

David Ortiz Befriends a Young Fan

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    David Ortiz called it a career in 2016. His final season was full of memories, gifts and, of course, big-time home runs.

    One memorable story involved Maverick Schutte, a young boy with a congenital heart defect.

    Big Papi recorded a video for Maverick and promised to hit a home run for him against the New York Yankees. Not only did Ortiz deliver the home run—a go-ahead job in the eighth inning that would prove to be the game-winner—but he also got to meet Maverick a short time later.

    Maverick visited Fenway Park and threw out the first pitch before a game against the Oakland Athletics. Papi caught it. Just try to watch the video without smiling.

Classmates Make Sure Daniel Wins

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    In June, a group of students in Greater Manchester, England, conspired to do something wonderful for their classmate.

    Then-10-year-old Daniel Boyers has cerebral palsy and, per Adam Boult of the Telegraph, told his mother he didn't want to participate in his school's sports day "as he was worried people would laugh at him if he attempted to run."

    Instead, all of Daniel's competitors slowed down during the race to make sure he took first.

    Daniel's mother, Wendy, told Alexandra Rucki of the Manchester Evening News: "He has always run every year, but always comes last. This year all of the kids decided not to run past Daniel."

Craig Anderson Records Shutout in 1st Game Since Wife's Cancer Diagnosis

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    In October, Nicholle Anderson—wife of Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson—was diagnosed with cancer. He took a brief leave at that time and has since taken another while she undergoes treatment.

    In Anderson's first game back since the initial announcement, he recorded a shutout against the Edmonton Oilers, making 37 saves.

    Upon the conclusion of the game, Anderson's teammates crowded around and individually embraced him. The opposing fans in Edmonton gave him an ovation as well.

    It was a moving display of support during a trying time.

100-Year-Old Woman Breaks Record

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    In May, retired teacher Ella Mae Colbert broke a world record. The South Carolina woman became the fastest 100-year-old to run the 100-meter dash.  

    It took Colbert two tries—she fell down on her first attempt—but she did it, clocking a time of 46.79 seconds, more than 30 seconds faster than the previous record.

    Colbert said, per Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com: "You'll have some trials and you'll have something that [gets] in your way, but you don't let it get you down. Get up, go again."

    Per Kit Fox of Runner's World, the time was pending verification from the folks at Guinness.

Triathlete Sacrifices Victory to Help His Brother

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    For British triathlete Alistair Brownlee, family is clearly more important than sport. He proved as much with his actions during the World Triathlon Series finale in September.

    Alistair's brother Jonny led the race down the final stretch when he began to struggle physically and slow down. Instead of passing his brother—a move that would have likely secured him victory—Alistair ran to Jonny and helped him finish the race.

    Not only that, but Alistair pushed Jonny over the line before himself, giving Jonny a second-place finish in the race and, therefore, in the overall ITU World Triathlon Series rankings as well.

    Jonny said, per BBC Sport: "Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out. I'll be thankful for the rest of my life."

Away Fans Bring Toys for Sick Children

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    In September, a group of children from Sophia Children's Hospital in Rotterdam, Netherlands, attended a football match between Dutch clubs Feyenoord and the visiting ADO Den Haag.

    Per Chris Wright of ESPN FC, the ADO Den Haag fans were asked to bring a variety of plush toys for the children, who were seated in the level below them.

    And bring them they did. At one point, the fans began to send the toys sailing down to the children below—it was a waterfall of childhood joy, if you will.

    Per Rachael Krishna of Buzzfeed, ADO Den Haag posted this message to social media, along with delightful photos: "Our mailbox is flowing full of compliments and thanks to the fans of Ado Den Haag. Of course we'd like to pass them on! We also received some pictures of children who, at the invitation of Feyenoord Rotterdam, sat in the box."

Shaq Surprises Florida 'Basketball Cop'

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    In January, someone actually called the police because children were (apparently noisily) playing basketball outside in Florida. 

    The responding officer, Bobby White, reacted perfectly—by joining in the pickup game. He said, per dashcam footage (via Stacey Readout of News4Jax): "Have fun. Glad to see y'all doing this than out there causing problems. You play here every day? OK, I'm going to try to bring some backup out here tomorrow and we'll get a game going."

    That interaction in and of itself was great enough, but then a certain NBA Hall of Famer caught wind of the whole thing and joined in.

    According to Readout, Shaquille O'Neal heard about the game and made a special trip to Gainesville to surprise the kids (and Officer White). 

Young Portuguese Fan Hugs French Fan After Euro Final

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    Portugal defeated France in the 2016 Euro final, 1-0, after an extra-time goal by Eder. It was the first major tournament win for the Portuguese, so, big deal. 

    Many French fans were likely devastated, but one in particular became the subject of an endearing and heartwarming moment caught on tape. The video, posted to Facebook by Euronews, shows a young Portuguese fan approaching the distraught Frenchman and consoling him.  

    Per David Williams of CNN.com, one fan wrote on Facebook: "I was so angry that Portugal won, but I literally cannot be anymore. Not when there are people like this little boy who love the game and [it seems] love life."

Mike Trout Autograph Moves Young Fan to Tears

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    Something as simple as an autograph can bring so much joy, especially to a child and a true sports fan.

    Ahead of an August game against the Detroit Tigers, a young fan approached Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout. Per Chris Cwik of Big League Stew, "It's tough to know exactly what the kid says to Trout, but strong lip readers at home can make out the phrase 'my favorite player.'"

    Trout came through with an autograph, and the youngster was so happy he was moved to tears.

    That kid's reaction was what it's all about, folks. Great stuff.

High School Basketball Manager Drains Three

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    In February, it was senior night for the boys' basketball team at Franklin Road Academy in Tennessee.

    The team's student manager, Robert Lewis, dressed for the game.

    In fact, Lewis, who has Down syndrome, didn't just dress. He saw game action as well.

    He drained a corner three late in the game and the moment was absolutely magical. The crowd went wild and Lewis met his brother Matthew—a player for the opposing University School of Nashville—at midcourt for a hug.

Atletico Madrid Fans Forgive Juanfran

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    In May, Real Madrid defeated Atletico Madrid on penalties in the 2015-16 Champions League final.

    Atletico Madrid defender Juanfran missed a crucial penalty shot, leaving the door open for Real Madrid to win the shootout, 5-3.

    Instead of booing or chastising him, Juanfran's fans lifted him up. As he walked toward them, the fans cheered and gave the distraught defender an ovation. Forgive the video quality, but check this out.

    All class.

Little League Dad Feigns Forgetting Son's Birthday

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    In July, the father of a Philadelphia Little Leaguer pulled a real fast one on his son.

    Devon Fowler led his son, Braheim, to believe he had forgotten his 12th birthday. Devon recorded the moment he revealed the ruse and presented Braheim with a brand new baseball bat. Braheim's reaction is truly touching. 

    Devon told Anastasia Weckerly and David Chang of NBC10: "[His reaction] definitely surprised me. I was expecting him to be happy but I didn't expect him to get so emotional."

    He added a bit of advice for parents who struggle financially, saying: "If you got love for your kids they won't care about what you get them."

Novak Djokovic Hugs Juan Martin Del Potro After Olympic Upset

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    ROBERTO SCHMIDT/Getty Images

    Tennis great Novak Djokovic does not lose often, but his first-round Olympic loss to Juan Martin del Potro set up one of the most heartwarming moments of the Rio Games.

    Djokovic—winner of 12 singles Grand Slams—lost to the unranked del Potro in straight sets. It was a stunner, to say the least.

    Instead of storming off the court in a huff, however, Djokovic did something remarkable. He hugged his emotional opponent in a lovely display of true sportsmanship.  

    Djokovic said, per Christopher Clarey of the New York Times: "It's obviously very sad and disappointing on my side to go out in a tournament this early, but on the other hand, I'm glad a good friend of mine, and somebody who has struggled a lot the last couple of years with injuries, is back and plays at this level."

Travis Rudolph Eats Lunch with Middle Schooler

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    In August, a few members of the Florida State football team visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee, Florida.

    Wide receiver Travis Rudolph sat down at a lunch table with Bo Paske, a student who has autism. According to Bo's mother, Leah, it's not unusual for her son to eat alone.

    Leah saw a photo of the lunch and wrote in a subsequent Facebook post (via AJ Willingham of CNN.com): 

    I had tears streaming down my face. I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.

    The post went viral, and later Bo got to watch an FSU game from the sidelines.