Spending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.
Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness enters.
Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be an inspiring story, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.
So, without further ado, sports the good:
1. Surfing Dogs Who Help Disabled Kids
Ricochet > Air Bud.
As part of a Sports Center feature, ESPN recently brought our attention to Ricochet, the dog who helps teach disabled people how to surf by acting as a canine co-pilot on their board while it’s in the water. From using sports to assist those in need to overcoming challenges as part of finding a way to contribute, there is nothing not inspiring about this story.
While training to be a service dog to assist someone in need of help with every day tasks, Ricochet proved too mischievous to fulfill the role expected of her. Instead of letting her rambunctious behavior limit her ability to serve, it was utilized in a way that made her more effective than imaginable.
2. First Times
After playing half of a season for Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, where he made no first team appearances, American soccer player Robbie Rogers returned to the United States to sign for the Columbus Crew of the MLS. He spent four years in Columbus, winning an MLS Cup title in 2008 and securing a spot on the U.S. Men’s National Team. At the conclusion of his contract, he sought out another opportunity in Europe, eventually signing with Leeds United. While struggling with injuries, Rogers had a difficult time cracking the first team. As a result, he was loaned out to League One team Stevenage. At the conclusion of his loan deal, he briefly returned to Leeds, but then left the club as part of a mutual decision.
Following his departure, and subsequent retirement from the game, Rogers came out as a homosexual. A couple months later, he was lured out of retirement by the L.A. Galaxy. On Sunday, he made his first appearance for the club on Sunday, coming on as a substitute in the 76th minute of his team’s 4-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders.
It marked the very first time that an openly gay male athlete competed in any of the five major North American sports leagues.
Just as it was when Jason Collins came out earlier this year, this type of barrier breaking is worth celebrating because it makes it easier for the next athlete to come out, and the next athlete after that, until we no longer care about the sexuality of professional athletes – which is really the ultimate goal. It’s a step forward. It’s progress. And it reaffirms the notion that sports are not about who you are as much as what you can do.
3. Tony Kanaan Winning The Indy 500
When we suggest that an athlete “deserved” to win, we usually mean that the result matched the process. Someone proved themselves to be the best that day, and the outcome of their competition confirmed their superiority.
On Sunday, Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500, and while he ran an excellent race – and certainly deserved to win it as much as anyone else – the majority of the claims for his deserving the victory weren’t based on his driving on the day that he finally captured the checkered flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but rather because of the bad luck he experienced in his eleven previous Indy 500 races.
Several times prior to Sunday’s win, Kanaan was the best driver on the circuit, only to be beaten by random occurrences outside of his own control. In 2002, an oil leak on the course was his undoing. In 2004, it was bad weather that stopped the race early and didn’t give him a chance to go for it in the final laps. In 2006, his pit-stop strategy was ruined by an ill-timed caution flag. In 2007, he was once again the victim of bad weather. In 2009, a mechanical failure took him out of the race. And then, last year, after leading for longer than anyone else, he was overtaken with fewer than six laps remaining.
Making the story of his victory even more amazing is that this weekend’s triumph came after he received a good luck charm from a young girl to whom he had given the same token nine years earlier, after learning that she suffered a stroke and was in a coma. After her own recovery, she sent the charm back to Kanaan hoping that whatever good luck was left in it would be extended to the generous driver. Sometimes, everything just seems right with the universe.
4. Unbridled Celebrations
With the Liga MX Clausura title on the line, Club América found themselves down by two goals on aggregate with only a few minutes remaining in their match against Club Azul on Sunday. Even after defender Aquivaldo Mosquera headed in a goal in the 88th minute to reduce the deficit to one, a comeback seemed unlikely. With only a few seconds remaining in injury time, Club América keeper Moisés Muñoz was sent into the opponent’s box for a corner kick. Somehow, his head found the ball, and after a deflection off of a Club Azul defender, the ball went into the net to the aggregate score at three goals a piece.
After a goalless extra time, the game went to penalties, where every Club América goal on their way to eventual victory was celebrated with all of the energy by manager Miguel Herrera.
There exists nothing but genuine bones in this man’s body.
5. Reminding Us That Sports Are Fun
Like a culminating snowball traveling downhill, all it took was the subtlest of post game photobombs from second baseman Ryan Quinn to create an avalanche of one ups, as the Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team has forever altered photobombing from prank to art.
The next time you’re feeling down about yourself, watch this. Let it remind you that you still have a sense of humor about things, and you can find joy in several different situations, and then look at this …
… and realize that there are at least sixty-six people in this world who are unable to say the same thing about themselves.
For more on photobombing as high art, SB Nation spoke with several of the Bearcats players.
6. Tyler Hansbrough’s Derp Face
While most of us have been trying to properly time our announcing of the “awakening of the sleeping giant” during the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Tyler Hansbrough has gone out and given us something to remember what will most likely end up as an otherwise forgettable Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers series.
Thank you, Mr. Hansbrough. Without a doubt, you are the Jeff Karstens of the NBA.
7. Munenori Kawasaki’s Post Game Show
It may have set racial stereotypes back twenty years, but Munenori Kawasaki’s post game interview following his ninth inning walk-off heroics was almost as entertaining as the single that drove home the winning run in the Toronto Blue Jays victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon.
8. A Hockey Fan’s Math Test
This is a picture of Maggie Ciara’s third grade math test, which she took last week. The nine-year-old Chicago Blackhawks fan answered a multiplication question asking what nine times nine is, with “Hossa,” as in All-Star forward Marian Hossa, who wears number 81 on his jersey. After her mom posted a picture of the test on Facebook, the Blackhawks reposted it on their own page where it received hundreds of “likes.”
According to DNA Info Chicago:
Maggie said she’s usually a “very serious” student and has never put a silly answer like “Hossa” on a test.
But she might do the same if she ever sees “8 times 11.” Chicago’s Patrick Kane, her favorite player, wears No. 88.
“But we haven’t learned our 11s yet,” she said.
9. The Opposite Of A Walk-off Walk
For a sport that receives its fair share of criticism for being boring, it’s worth remembering that every baseball game has the potential to produce a rather exciting finale. Witness San Francisco’s first annual running of the Angel Pagans:
Walk offs in baseball are great. As are inside-the-park home runs. Combined, it’s just about the best thing that sport has to offer, and when you throw in an excited third base coach running along with his player en route to scoring the winning run …
Baseball, man. Baseball.
10. Proper Introductions
On Saturday, my step-father and I watched the Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich at a pub. This represented an incredibly rare get-together for two reasons: 1) My step-father isn’t a very big sports fan, and 2) Prior to this weekend, he could count on one hand the number of drinks he’s consumed at a bar.
Despite our somewhat dissimilar backgrounds as they pertain to consuming sports and alcohol, circumstances gave the two of us some time to kill in an unfamiliar city, and he was kind enough to accompany me to watch the match. It couldn’t have possibly gone better.
It’s likely the result of hyper awareness causing an overly critical eye that when you attempt to introduce something new to someone, it always seems to be at its most disappointing. Our experience on Saturday was anything but. The match, which wasn’t settled until the very last minute of regular time, was thrilling. The bar, which at first glance seemed a little rough, was deeply entrenched in the final, cheering on every close play. And most importantly, my step-dad genuinely enjoyed the experience, telling me afterward that it was one of the best sports events he had ever witnessed.
Sports bringing people together is essentially what this column is all about, and I was exceedingly grateful that the backdrop of a Champions League final on high definition television screens at a bar in London, Ontario, could lead to a bonding moment for myself. Thanks, Arjen Robben, and the people at the Oar House.