The sports pages are littered with stories about athletes behaving badly. ESPN's headlines often read like a police blotter. But there are lots of heartwarming tales, too. To help you feel better about your fandom, here are 11 instances of athletes being awesome.
1. Kyle Long
When his son's experience with bullies got so bad that even switching schools didn't help, Frank Oyston tried an unconventional approach—he reached out to Kyle Long of the Chicago Bears on Twitter. The Pro Bowl guard has an active social media presence, but it still probably came as a surprise to Oyston when Long immediately replied with an offer to ride the bus with 9-year-old Andrew. That proved to be not logistically feasible (and probably a little illegal) but just a few days ago, Long went to Andrew's little sister's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese to spend some time with the family.
"Initially I just saw a dad that was in a tough spot with a kid that was obviously going through some things," Long told ESPNChicago.com. "As somebody that didn't have the best elementary and middle school experience, I can relate a lot to what Andrew is going through."
2. Matt Kemp
Last season, Joshua Jones' friends and family pooled their money to get the 19-year-old brain cancer patient front row seats to a Giants-Dodgers game. During the game, his father struck up a conversation with Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and explained the nature of their trip. Wallach relayed their story to Joshua's favorite player, Matt Kemp, who decided the family deserved more than to see a Dodgers' loss. As soon as the game ended, Kemp—who made the last out—jogged right over to Joshua and began handing him souvenirs: a signed ball, his jersey, hat, and even cleats.
A video of the encounter went viral, and later in the season Kemp even flew Joshua to L.A. for another game.
3. Chris Seitz
In 2008, MLS goalie Chris Seitz—along with the rest of his then teammates at Real Salt Lake—registered to become bone marrow donors as a show of solidarity for his teammate Andy Williams' wife, Marcia, who was battling leukemia. Four years later, while playing for FC Dallas, Seitz got an email—he was a match for a dying patient. Would he be willing to donate bone marrow?
The 25-year-old talked to team officials and doctors about the procedure. It was an invasive surgery, requiring doctors to poke two holes in his lower back, then fish 32 needles through each of those holes to remove fresh marrow from the core of Seitz's bones. Recovery typically isn't too arduous, but no one knew for sure how it would impact Seitz's athletic career, which often requires him to fall on the very bones that would be affected.
Seitz opted to go through with the procedure, even though he ended up missing the rest of the soccer season.
4. Adreian Payne
Adreian Payne was one of several Spartans who visited 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth in the hospital while she was battling cancer, but he developed a particularly close friendship with the third grader. The Michigan State basketball player called her his "sister," and brought her on the court during senior day and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. She came with him to the end-of-year banquet and cheered him on in the Slam Dunk contest. Even when Lacey couldn't make it to the games, the two texted daily.
Three days after Lacey succumbed to the neuroblastoma, Payne attended the John R. Wooden Award gala where he was awarded the first Outreach Award. "She wouldn't want me to be sad," Payne said during his acceptance speech. "It's hard."
5. Roger Federer
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, 18-year-old Beatriz Tinoco—who had survived battles with cancer in 2011 and 2012—was able to meet Roger Federer last year. But the tennis great made sure that she got more than just a meet-and-greet. Beatriz and her family were flown to London for Wimbledon, where she got not only autographs and pictures but a tour of facility (led by Federer and the Chairman of Wimbledon) and a chance to play tennis with the seven-time tournament champion. You can read her own, exclamation point-filled account of the trip here.
6. LaMarr Woodley
When the Steelers linebacker learned that the Saginaw Public Schools in his Michigan hometown were charging a $75 fee for students to participate in sports, he reached out with an amazing offer. Because of the fees—which were designed to make up for budget cuts to the athletic department—the school reported decreased participation in sports. But to ensure the costs wouldn't fall on the kids and their families, Woodley donated $60,000 to cover every student-athlete in the district.
“Because of this, kids will have an opportunity to participate, an opportunity to be part of a team. People don’t understand how important that is," said Saginaw High athletic director Dan Szatkowski.
7. Josh Zuchowski
"I have looked up to you since I was seven," Josh Zuchowski wrote in a letter to his friend and rival, Reese Branzell. Of course, the two competitive swimmers are just nine and 10 years old, respectively, but it's still touching.
The occasion for the praise came last December, when Josh noticed Reese missing from a meet. The older boy had been hospitalized since November with a hip infection that left him unable to compete. Josh told his parents that if he won that day, he would send his trophy to Reese—and went on to do just that. "I would rather get second with you at the meet, then win with you absent," the note said.
8. Christine Michael
Winning the Super Bowl has led to lots of invitations to exclusive events for the Seattle Seahawks. Among such events: high school proms.
Running back Christine Michael accepted an invitation just a few weeks ago to go to Anahuac High's prom at the end of the school year. His date will be 18-year-old Taylor Kirkwood, who is autistic and recently underwent surgery to treat scoliosis. Holmes' cousin attended high school with Michael and was able to relay the invite.
9. Victor Cruz
Twitter, Victor Cruz
Six-year-old Jack Pinto was among the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012. After the tragedy, news broke that the Giants fan would be buried in his Victor Cruz jersey. Just two days after the shooting, Cruz appeared on the field with "R.I.P. JACK PINTO" written on one cleat, "My Hero" on the other, and Jack's name on one of his gloves, above the inscription "This one is 4 U!"
After the game those items were given to Jack's family, and Cruz called to offer his condolences. A few days later, Cruz drove up to Sandy Hook to spend time with Jack's friends and family, listen to them reminisce and play Madden with the younger kids.
10. Bryce Harper
The Nationals first learned about Gavin Rupp after the young cancer patient participated in a baseball tournament put on by Kyle's Kamp, a foundation that raises money to support Children’s National for pediatric cancer research. When doctors told Gavin's family that they had found another tumor and it was time to move Gavin to hospice care, the Nationals decided to do something special. Last year, the then-13-year-old was invited to throw out the first pitch—but before the game, his favorite player made an extra effort to get to know Gavin. Bryce Harper spent over an hour talking with the Rupps before catching Gavin's ceremonial pitch.
11. Todd Frazier
In 2012, Ted Kremer—a 29-year-old with Down syndrome—won a silent auction to be the Cincinnati Reds' honorary bat boy for one day. He had such a positive effect on the dugout that the team invited him back for another game the following year.
That day, Kremer had two requests: 11 strikeouts to capitalize on a local pizzeria promotion for free pies, and a home run by third baseman Todd Frazier. The Reds delivered on both counts.
“He’s so funny, he said, ‘C’mon, hit me a home run, I love you.’ I said, ‘I love you too, I’ll hit you one,’” Frazier said in a postgame interview after the Reds' victory.