By now you’ve probably heard the story and seen the videos. In a game played May 29, 2019 between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros, a hard line drive foul ball hit by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. struck a little girl. She was immediately rushed from the seats. Early reports say she was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure and that she is going to be okay. (Update: the girl reportedly suffered a skull fracture from the incident and is recovering.)
Almora was visibly shaken immediately after it happened, as anyone would be, but what happened in the next half inning or so is what we should be talking about. And keep talking about.
These are the scenes we should watch with our kids. These are things we should be talking about with our kids.
You don’t just see a player, shaken and upset. You see a man so distraught over the pain that he may have caused another person — a child, no less — that he literally crumbles to the ground. You see a man cry, openly and publicly. You see another man, a teammate, rush out to console him.
Albert Almora Jr. was inconsolable after his foul ball hit a small child in the stands of Minute Maid Park. pic.twitter.com/6NbDEcyTEl
— theScore (@theScore) May 30, 2019
Then a little while later, you see Almora approach the fans near where the foul ball struck, checking on them. You see him checking with a security guard about the well-being of the little girl. And you see him embrace the security guard for several minutes, breaking down and sobbing on her shoulder while more than 30 thousand fans — and millions of viewers at home — look on.
In other words, you see a sports superstar acting like a … well, a human.
Setting aside the debate about whether netting needs to be extended even farther, we could say this isn’t rare or news-worthy and, I suppose, it shouldn’t be. But the fact of the matter is that it is. In a society where toxic masculinity runs rampant and seemingly “innocent” comments like “be a man” and “boys don’t cry” are thrown around with impunity, seeing a man show emotion is rare, and unfortunately not always welcome. Shortly after the video of Almora sobbing made its way across the Interwebs, Twitter was filled with nasty comments about Almora’s display of emotion.
We are a household of die-hard Cubs fans, so we have been obsessed with this story from the instant it happened. I’ve watched the video with my older son countless times, and the thing that always strikes me is that my son doesn’t really see his tears and sobbing as unique.
My sons both play youth sports, and even at my 12-year-old’s games, it isn’t uncommon to see a player crying on the pitcher’s mound or as he leaves the field following a botched play. They are kids, and they have feelings. But I always find myself wondering, at what point do they discover that they can’t always show their emotions? At what point does the world tell them to suck it up and hold it in? At what point do we tell them that they shouldn’t be humans, but that they need to “be a man” and that “boys don’t cry?”
Because that’s what the world tries to do. That’s what this patriarchal society tries to do. That’s what toxic masculinity tries to do.
Almora crying after a foul ball hit a fan behind the Cubs dugout. Absolutely brutal. Several players also in shock. pic.twitter.com/u4ogSF23gi
— Aldo Soto (@AldoSoto21) May 30, 2019
And we need to fight that with all we have.
Say what you will about sports, but I’ve found that many life lessons gained from playing sports can also be found in watching sports. And not just in the big plays and the fancy, acrobatic catches (of which Almora has had many), but in the stuff that happens between the actual acts of athleticism. It is in the humanity of sports where the real magic lies.
Unfortunately, these days a lot of what our kids absorb while watching professional athletes is negative. They are inundated with messages of cockiness, temper tantrums, and assholery. They hear the stories about the star player arrested for domestic abuse. They see arguments between players and coaches and referees. And they notice that professional teams don’t shake hands with each other at the end of the game, even though this is a part of every single one of their own games as kids.
At some point, it seems that sports become more about being a fierce competitor than being a human. And this worries me. And it should worry all of us. Because if the only thing our kids witness is the “win at all costs” competitiveness and the superhero displays of athleticism, at some point, we lose the humanity of it all.
Albert Almora Jr. is an top-notch ball player and his athletic prowess in the outfield can make him look like a flying superhero sometimes.
Uh-oh that's gonna be extra ba-
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 15, 2019
But what should be celebrated isn’t the beauty of fancy catches or his superhuman athletic abilities, but rather the beauty of his humanity. Because regardless of whether he wins a gold glove or how many highlight reels he makes, his heart of gold is what makes him the real MVP.