One of the most iconic scenes in A League of Their Own is when coach Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, repeatedly screams at a distraught player, “There’s no crying in baseball.” Of course, just as there is crying in the movie, there is definitely crying in actual baseball, as well as in other sports. Whether tears come from joy, sadness, rage, the pain of injury, or a mix, crying has been a regular feature of some of the most dramatic episodes in sports history. Below are 10 memorably tearful sports moments…
10. Dan Jansen, 1994 Lillehammer Olympics
Tears on the Olympic medal stand aren’t exactly unusual, but speed skater Dan Jansen had a particularly difficult road to his gold medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, so when he got choked up on the medal stand, plenty of viewers did as well.
Jansen’s previous Olympic attempts had not ended well. In the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Jansen fell in both the 500-meter and 1000-meter events. Jansen, who was a favorite to win in both races, was too devastated over the death of his sister Jane, who was battling leukemia, on the day of his first event to be able to effectively compete. The enduring image of him from that Olympics shows Jansen with his head in his hands as he sprawls out on the ice. Jansen also fell short in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, finishing in fourth place.
The 1994 Olympics were shaping up as another bust for Jansen. He slipped in the 500-meter race, the event in which he was favored and finished 8th. So when he took to the ice for the 1000-meter event a few days later, hopes were not high. However, Jansen proved everybody wrong, finishing in first place, setting a new world record, and taking the gold. Jansen skated a victory lap with his daughter, Jane (named after his late sister). When he took to the podium, Jansen’s eyes filled with tears during the US national anthem, and at the conclusion of the music, he raised his right hand and looked upward, in salute to his sister, Jane.
9. Wade Boggs, Game 7, 1986 World Series
There were a lot of tears shed in Boston when the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series to the New York Mets in Game 7. The Sox had come within one strike of winning the series in Game 6 but lost their lead, and ultimately the game, in extra innings. In Game 7, the Sox again blew an early lead, and the Mets won the Series. The Red Sox, who had not won a World Series since 1918, would have to wait until 2004 to win the championship again. After his team lost the series, Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs cried in the dugout, an image of loss that would become an iconic symbol of the Sox inability to overcome the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” even as they came tantalizingly close to victory.
However, while most Boston fans shared Boggs’ disappointment over the loss, few knew the full reason for his emotional display. Just four months prior, Boggs’ mother had been killed in a freak car accident. Boggs had channeled his grief into baseball, but said that when the game ended, “I knew the last out was the finality of having to go back home and having to walk through the door and not see my mother. That sort of crushed me.”
8. Michael Jordan, 2009 Basketball Hall of Fame Induction
This image, of Michael Jordan’s tearstained visage at his 2009 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, would become the face that launched a thousand “Crying Jordan” memes. What is this meme all about? Pretty simple–Jordan’s face, wet with tears, would be superimposed on anyone who suffered a public loss. While sports figures, including Ronda Rousey and the horse that ran second in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, were particularly likely to receive the “Crying Jordan” treatment, figures from politics and pop culture weren’t spared.
However, while Michael Jordan began his Hall of Fame speech with tears of apparent gratitude for the warm reception he received from the crowd, the rest of his speech took on a more combative tone. Jordan called out everyone from the coach who didn’t put him on the varsity team and the NBA players who he claimed gave him the “freeze out” treatment during his rookie year. While the evening began with the face that would come to be defined as “Crying Jordan,” it ended on a tone that some would characterize as “petty” and “unworthy of Jordan’s stature,” so the emotion that viewers remember from the event may depend on how much of the speech they actually watched.
7. Roger Federer, 2009 Australian Open
Second place in one of tennis’ Grand Slam events doesn’t seem like something to cry about, but for Roger Federer, finishing as runner-up to Rafael Nadal in 2009’s Australian Open was devastating. Winning would have allowed Federer to match Pete Sampras’ record of 14 career Grand Slam titles, but Federer lost to Nadal in a lengthy match that dragged on for 5 sets and over 4 hours.
After being awarded the second-place plate, at the trophy ceremony, Federer dissolved into sobs, choking out, “God, it’s killing me,” before stepping back from the mic. Both Nadal and Federer were very gracious after this emotional moment. Federer congratulated his opponent, saying, “Congratulations, you played incredible, you deserve it, man.” For his part, Nadal, who said seeing Federer’s crushing disappointment made him enjoy his own victory a little less, told Federer “You’re one of the best in history,” and said that, “to see a great champion like Federer expressing his emotions” elevated the sport. Nadal was prescient to be so understanding, because 5 years later, Nadal would also be left in tears as he finished second in the Australian Open.
6. Coach Herb Brooks, after the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics
The US vs. Soviet Union hockey game in the medal round of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics was an epic event, one that veteran sportcaster Len Berman would characterize as, “the greatest moment in American sports history.” The US team, comprised of amateur college players, stunned the heavily favored Soviet team–the defending gold medalists –with their 4-3 semifinal win. Al Michaels’ call of the game underscored how unexpected the result of the game that would come to be known as the “Miracle on Ice” was—as the final horn sounded and US victory was assured, the sportscaster yelled over the jubilant crowd, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The US would go on to defeat Finland for the gold medal a couple days later.
There was plenty of emotion on the ice, from the crowd, and from the viewers at home when the US team triumphed over the Soviets. However, one person was notably missing from the celebration—US coach Herb Brooks. Brooks was known for his hard-driving leadership of the team, even requiring his players to run drills to exhaustion after tying Norway in an exhibition match. However, after his team surprised the world with their performance, Coach Brooks headed down the tunnel rather than sharing in the victory. Brooks later indicated that he had headed to the locker room for some private tears of joy, a rare emotional moment from a man known for his gruff public persona.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo, 2016 Euro Cup
Cristiano Ronaldo, a professional soccer player who plays for Real Madrid and Portugal’s national team, is known for his emotional reactions on the field. He has shown frustration when a teammate failed to pass to him for a shot on goal and was visibly (and audibly) annoyed when a Real Madrid teammate missed a free kick. Ronaldo’s childhood teammate indicated that the tantrums have been a longstanding part of the soccer great’s game, saying that Ronaldo was known as “Cry Baby” because of his outbursts.
However, during the Euro 2016 final, where Ronaldo and the Portugal squad he captained faced down France, Ronaldo’s emotions took the form of tears, rather than rage. After an early injury to his knee, Ronaldo repeatedly tried to rejoin play, but during the 24th minute of the game, he finally accepted that the injury was too much, sitting down and crying, ultimately leaving the field on a stretcher with his head in his hands. Ronaldo, who had said he hoped to be “crying for joy” when Portugal took its first European Championship was instead crying tears of pain and frustration. However, Ronaldo would ultimately get his wish. When his team triumphed 1-0 over France, a bandaged Ronaldo was able to take the field and share his triumphant tears with his team, and with the world.
4. Wayne Gretzky Gets Traded, 1988
When Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988, it echoed throughout the hockey-loving world. ESPN calls it “the most significant trade in the game’s history.” At least a couple of books have even been written about this trade, including Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, America, and the Day Everything Changed. While that title may slightly overstate the impact of the trade, it is clear that Gretzky’s move (as well the accompanying trades of Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley, who were also traded from the Oilers to the Kings) had a lasting impact on the NHL.
When Gretzky, then the brightest star in the NHL, spoke about the trade, which he had agreed to, he said he was “disappointed about having to leave Edmonton,” before tears overtook him to the point he couldn’t finish his statement. The fallout from the news of the trade was significant. Oilers owner Peter Pocklington received “a lot of death threats” from fans angry that he had sold the “Great One” to a US team. (Pocklington’s autobiography is called, I’d Trade Him Again: on Gretzky, Politics and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal, suggesting he still feels he made the right call.) Canadian politicians even explored legislation to keep their sports hero north of the border. However, the trade went through, and whatever regret Gretzky may have felt at the tearful press conference was quickly eased by his success on the Kings and by the broadening interest in hockey that was spurred by his move to a US-based team.
3. David Luiz, 2014 World Cup
Brazil’s defeat by Germany in the semi-final round of the World Cup was what one media outlet termed, “the most devastating loss in World Cup history.” Playing on their home turf in front of a nation of soccer enthusiasts desperate for a World Cup victory on their own soil, the Brazil team lost 7-1 to the German team in the worst loss ever by a World Cup host nation. It was also the first time Brazil had lost a competitive game at home since 1975, and soccer fans across Brazil reacted to the brutal defeat with disbelief, heartbreak, and tears.
Defender David Luiz, who captained the Brazil team for the game in the absence of Thiago Silva, who had been suspended, epitomized his country’s sense of loss after the crushing defeat. Leaving the field in tears, Luiz struggled to control his emotions after he was pulled aside for an interview. Through his tears, he acknowledged that Germany had prepared and played better and apologized to all of Brazil for his team’s lackluster performance, saying, “It’s a very sad day but it’s also a day from which to learn.”
2. Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP Speech
When Kevin Durant accepted the NBA’s top individual honor in 2014, his moving speech quickly became one of the most memorable in the sport’s history. Durant, who was overcome with emotion during his speech (even asking at one point, “Why am I crying so much?”), graciously thanked just about everyone, prompting one outlet to call it “a 25-minute love-fest.” Durant, who said he “had so much help” getting to the MVP level, thanked his teammates (even rival Russell Westbrook, to whom he said, “I love you. I thank you so much. You make me better”), coaches, staff, and Oklahoma City fans, to whom he said, “I thank you so much for embracing us.”
However, the most touching moments of Durant’s speech came when he spoke about his family, especially his mom, Wanda Pratt, who raised Durant and his brother as a single mother. Addressing his mom, who was also crying at that point, he said:
“We wasn’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You the real MVP.”
As Durant finished his tribute to his mother, and concluded the speech, he and his mother weren’t the only ones whose faces were streaked with tears.
1. Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939
In Lou Gehrig’s 17 seasons in Major League Baseball, he earned the nickname “Iron Horse” for his reliable performance as a hitter and first baseman. Gehrig played on 6 World Series champion teams and was twice selected as the American League MVP.
However, his most memorable moment on the field came after his playing career came to an abrupt end when the baseball great was diagnosed with ALS (which came to be known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The New York Yankees honored Gehrig just weeks after he left baseball, on July 4, 1939. When the tributes to Gehrig were complete, he almost didn’t give the speech that would become the most iconic address in baseball history.
Overcome with emotion, Gehrig needed to wipe away his tears and confer with Yankee’s manager Joe McCarthy, before he finally approached the microphone and delivered a moving speech that began with the words, “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” While Gehrig was able to stop his tears long enough to thank his fellow players, staff and family, by the time Gehrig closed by saying, “I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for,” tears were flowing freely amongst the players and fans who watched Gehrig’s speech on that July day in Yankee Stadium.