Part of why we love sports so much is that they’re a microcosm of the human experience. The trials and tribulations that athletes go through on the field—whether it’s working their way back from an injury or fighting to quiet their doubters—reflect the struggles we all go through in day to day life.
The raw emotion of a sporting contest provides an opportunity for people of all walks of life to come together, whether they’re fans of the same team or opposing ones, and find a comfortable middle ground.
Sports can provide an escape from the hardship of daily life, and we’ve seen some incredibly uplifting moments as athletes leave it all on the field despite the difficult circumstances around them. Here’s a look at some of the most inspiring, transcendent stories we’ve seen in sports.
Damar Hamlin’s Injury
After making what looked like a routine tackle in a game between his Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals in January of this year, Hamlin suddenly fell to the ground, having gone into cardiac arrest because the collision occurred during a specific moment in his heart’s electrical cycle, a condition known as Commotio Cordis.
Team doctors and first responders restored Hamlin’s heartbeat on the field, and he was transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was sedated and placed on a ventilator. With players on both sides too distraught to continue, the game was suspended and later canceled entirely.
After recovering adequately, Hamlin was removed from artificial sedation three days later: reportedly, the first question he asked upon waking up was “did we win?” caring more about the state of his team than what he had gone through.
Hamlin’s Return to Action
Hamlin was cleared to return to NFL action by mid-April, stating that he planned to continue his career despite his terrifying injury. He made good on that statement in August, when he played in the Bills’ first preseason game barely eight months removed from that fateful night in Cincinnati.
After literally dying and coming back to life on the field last season—not to mention returning to live game action less than eight months after his terrifying injury—Hamlin is the runaway favorite to win the NFL’s comeback player of the year award this season with some of the best betting promos on the market.
Hamlin also managed to find the good in his injury, raising more than $10 million for his charitable foundation Chasing M’s, a Christmas toy drive for his hometown community: Given that he exceeded his annual goal of $2,500 by 4,000 fold, Hamlin ended up donating the funds raised to other charitable ventures. He’s also made sure to pay back those who helped save his life, speaking at the US Capitol Building about the need for more Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), the device used to restart his heart, in public places.
Hamlin’s injury served as a reminder of the brutal nature of football as a sport, but it also showed the best side of humanity as a nation of sports fans rallied around him.
Longtime Packers quarterback Brett Favre lost his father the day before his team was set to play the Oakland Raiders in December 2003. Everyone would have understood if he needed to take time away from the sport to mourn, but Favre told reporters after the game that his dad, who helped him learn the sport, would’ve wanted him to play.
Favre honored his dad in the best way possible, throwing four touchdowns in the first half and 399 yards overall as the Packers blew the doors off the Raiders 41-7, moving to 9-6 on the season and helping them secure a playoff spot. The legendary Packers signal caller described his love for his father after the game, adding that he knew his dad was watching him from above.
Saints and Katrina
Hurricane Katrina decimated the city of New Orleans in August 2005 on the eve of the NFL season. It caused significant damage to the Superdome, the Saints’ home stadium, forcing them to play their home games in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and San Antonio, Texas, for the duration of the year while necessary repairs occurred.
The team suffered to a 3-13 record during the tumultuous year, one that ended with quarterback Aaron Brooks and head coach Jim Haslett leaving town due to poor performances, as rumors swirled that the Superdome might close for good, that the Saints might make the move to San Antonio permanent.
The Saints ended up replacing the duo with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, respectively, and they made their triumphant return to the Big Easy the next season. Playing against the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints’ defense forced a three-and-out on Atlanta’s opening possession, blocking the ensuing punt attempt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown. They went on to win the game 23-3, enjoying their best season in franchise history to that point as they made it all the way to the NFC Championship game.
Long derided as the ‘Aints’ by NFL fans because of their historic lack of success since entering the league in the 1970s, New Orleans managed to flip the script on decades of futility in the years following Katrina. While Brees lit it up in the field for the Saints for the better part of two decades, his career reached its apex in 2009, when he led the team to their first and only Super Bowl championship, a game in which he was named MVP. Beyond the victory on the field, many described it as a symbolic win off the field, signifying the city’s recovery from the deadly hurricane.