Sports can serve as a lot of things to different people. It is primarily entertainment. It can also be something more. When tragedy strikes an area, often times the people affected can look to their sports franchises for a welcome distraction from the real-world issues impacting them on a daily basis.
Many times, athletes can interact with their communities following a tragedy as a way to help them heal. Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto did just that after the horrific shootings at Dayton recently.
Joey Votto’s tribute
Votto played for the minor league Dayton Dragons for two seasons. During a recent Reds game, Votto drew a heart on his hat with “Dayton” written inside it as a way to pay tribute to the city he called home for a couple of years.
Votto was a 2002 draft pick for the Cincinnati Reds. For the 2003 and 2004 seasons, he played at Dayton. In 2003 he had only one home run with a .231 batting average. In his next year, he had 14 home runs while hitting .302.
In 2012, Votto would rejoin the Dragons on an injury rehab assignment. This time he was playing for them not as a young, wide-eyed minor leaguer, but as an NL MVP. Votto commented on his love for the city of Dayton at the time (per MiLB.com):
“(Dayton) is one of the most special places for baseball in all of the Minor Leagues and all of professional baseball,” said Votto in August, 2012. “There is a fantastic fan base…they sure make you feel good. I come back here and receive nothing but support and appreciation and I feel the very same way about them.”
Votto’s love for the city is what led to his tribute when tragedy struck Dayton in 2019. Votto wasn’t the only athlete to honor a community that was suffering, however.
Other athlete tributes
Below are just a few examples of athletes offering tributes to cities or communities recovering from a horrific event.
The New York Yankees play at Virginia Tech
Following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, the Yankees would play an exhibition game in Blacksburg, Virginia against the Virginia Tech Hokies baseball team. They’d even wear specially-made Yankee hats featuring the Hokies colors of burnt orange and Chicago maroon.
The NHL responds to the Humboldt Broncos bus accident
When the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team suffered a bus crash, there was an outpouring of support from the NHL community. Numerous players and coaches expressed their condolences and support. Others donated money. Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher pledged to donate to a GoFundMe set up in the team’s honor.
Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans Saints
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans, Louisiana area. While the citizens of the city itself were the primary concern, the football team was also displaced due to the storm. The Saints would return in September 2006 for a game against the Atlanta Falcons.
They won in convincing fashion, 22-3. A few seasons later, they’d win a Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts. The team served as both a distraction and an inspiration for the residents of the city. During a dark and trying time, they represented a beacon of hope.
The Marshall Thundering Herd return
In 1970, the Marshall Thundering Herd football team experienced a loss directly when 37 of the team members perished in a plane crash. They also lost nine members of the coaching staff along with 25 boosters.
Despite this unspeakable tragedy, the team would return the next season with a very young and inexperienced team to compete. The team honored their fallen brethren with a 15-13 victory in their first game back.