Sports in 2011 had it all. The Packers won the Super Bowl and Aaron Rogers officially put the legend of Brett Favre to bed in Green Bay. The Mavs won an NBA title. The Bruins downed Vancouver 4-0 in game 7 to win the Stanley Cup. Tragically, there were the endless scandals which rocked marquee college football and basketball programs. There were lockouts in the NBA and NFL, failed drug tests, and the horrible news that Pat Summitt, legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. My personal favorites are Tim Tebow bringing us to our knees in Denver and the Cardinals unbelievable World Series victory after being down to their last strike TWICE in game 6 of the Fall Classic.
But the real beauty of sports is their ability to transcend the narrow field of competition and make a wider lasting positive impact. Consider Miki Ando who won gold at the Women’s Figure Skating World Championship in 2011. Ando was skating for her native country Japan. The world championships were scheduled to take place in Tokyo but were moved to Moscow after 9.0 magnitude earthquake and following tsunami March 11 that devastated Japan. Ando skated flawlessly and her countrymen were never far from her thoughts. “I didn’t just skate for myself. In Japan we’re having a really hard time right now. I knew so many people would be watching and I did it for them,” Ando told reporters with her newly minted medal dangling around her neck. She didn’t just skate for herself, but for her country.
A similar phenomenon occurred this summer at the Women’s World Cup Soccer match. A faster, better and better-conditioned U.S. team succumbed to the Japanese team 3-1 on penalty kicks. Twice the Japanese rallied with late scores to tie forcing the penalty kicks. What makes the victory so incredible is that the earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 25,000 dead or missing also took the life of one of their assistant coaches and left their practice field an evacuation center. Somehow, against all odds, they won the first FIFA World Cup in their nation’s history in July 2011. “I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for that team. When you’re playing with so much emotion and so much heart like they were, it’s hard to play against,” U.S. standout goalkeeper, Hope Solo, remarked after the match. Her sorrow at the loss was only matched by her admiration for her opponents’ loyalty to county and countrymen. Japanese Coach Norio Sasaki summed it up best, “We are still recovering from the disaster so even little things like a win can give people courage and hope.”
When you play for something bigger than yourself, incredible things can happen. Time and again we see teams that are tested by adversity lifted to new heights. We see the ability of sports to carry a community through dark times and vice versa. The sports highlights of 2011 continue to prove that. Let’s hope 2012 is no different.