Martin Luther King, Jr. was arguably one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. His commitment to non-violent protests was vital to the U.S. civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's. One of the things we remember most about King was his "I have a dream" speech. While he made many speeches in his lifetime, it was that speech that was by far his most notable.
So, in honor of MLK Day, we take a look at memorable speeches in sports history.
Photo credit: YouTube/The V Foundation
In 1993, former NC State coach Jimmy Valvano's body was riddled with cancer. He only had a few months to live and he was going to spend every moment he could advocating for cancer research. His speech at the 1993 ESPY's remains as the most heartwarming and motivational things you'll probably hear in your lifetime. Because of this speech, ESPN was able to create the Jimmy V foundation for Cancer Research.
"Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul."
This is not the "win one for the Gipper speech". Instead, this is Knute Rockne's pep talk that was immortalized by the movie Rudy.
"And don't forget, men -- today is the day we're gonna win. They can't lick us -- and that's how it goes... The first platoon men -- go in there and fight, fight, fight, fight, fight! What do you say, men!"
On April 27th, 1947 the New York Yankees held "Babe Ruth Day" at Yankee Stadium. Because of Ruth's health at the time, they weren't sure he'd able to make it. But there he was standing tall and though he was not as lively as he normally was, he still thrilled the capacity crowd by addressing them that day.
Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man on the face of the earth" remains arguably the greatest speech in sports history. Knowing full well that his days were numbered, Gehrig stood up there and talked about how lucky he was to have lived the life he did playing the game he loved. The speech was a testament to Gehrig's humility both as a ball player and as a human being.
"So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."
Vince Lombardi was a master motivator and in his last game as coach of the Green Bay Packers, he was short and to the point. After the Pack defeated the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl, many thought that the game against the Raiders was going to be just as difficult. In typical Lombardi fashion, he talked about the basics of football.
"Just hit, just run, just block and just tackle".
Many will probably say that a speech from a fictional movie has no business on a list like this. But when that movie includes the venerable Al Pacino, regardless of the quality of the film, it deserves at least a second and third look. Any Given Sunday probably doesn't even rank on many people's favorite sports movie lists, however, almost every sports fan can recall the speech coach Tony D'Amato gave at the end.
Granted, this was a recreation of Herb Brooks' famous speech to the U.S. National Hockey team before they took on the Soviets in 1980. But give Kurt Russell credit. Not only did he play the part of Brooks' well, by all accounts, he nailed the pep talk to a 't'.
"This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it."
The country was devastated after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nobody wanted to even think about sports while thousands of bodies were still being pulled out of the World Trade Center rubble. Legendary St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster Jack Buck wrote a patriotic poem that he recited to the Busch Stadium crowd on Sept 17th, 2001. Til this day, many get choked up just hearing the words again.
"As our fathers did before, we shall
Win this unwanted war.
And our children will enjoy the
Future, we'll be giving."
It's hard to ignore the blunders of Isiah Thomas' post-playing career. But during his time in the NBA, there wasn't a player who could his rival his intensity and his absolute sweat and tears for the game he loved. He was truly the ultimate competitor. When Zeke was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, he spent time talking about his mom who had to literally fight off gangs on her front door step to keep them from her children. Isiah and many of those in the audience teared up listening to the Mary Thomas story and for a brief moment, all the shenanigans of his post-career meltdown were forgotten.
It would be a damn shame to have a list like this and not include the greatest trash talker ever and perhaps the greatest athlete of all-time, Muhammad Ali. His interviews with Howard Cosell remain legendary and his ability to deliver one-liners is unmatched in the world of sports.
"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
(Previously published on January 18, 2011.)